Reo the cat has started yelping instead of meowing. He stands outside closed doors and says, essentially, “Get me the hell out of here or else!” Luckily, he weighs about five pounds and doesn’t have opposable thumbs, so I don’t have to take him that seriously. But there is something impressive about how explicitly he makes his needs known. “I need this. Now. And you are the one who will get it for me.”
If only it were that easy to know what we wanted! If we could just stand on the corner and declare our requests, we would walk taller and smile longer. If we could spit out what we wanted, we could move on.
In my senior year at Mount Holyoke, I lived in a beautiful single on the first floor of Wilder Hall. There was a huge window, tall ceilings, and a full-size closet. In other words, the opposite of your worst nightmare. I had a weeknight nighttime routine:
- 9:15 PM Homework away
- 9:30 Dessert (that I sneaked away during lunch or snagged during the nightly “Milk and Cookies”)
- 9:35 An episode of The Mindy Project
- 10 Brush teeth
- 10:15 Lights out!
Except that starting mid-January, my upstairs neighbors started moving furniture at 10:30. Or if they weren’t moving furniture, they were doing Pilates courses online. Or if they weren’t doing Pilates courses online, they were inviting the whole second floor into their room to watch YouTube videos at top volume.
These nightly noises infuriated me. How could they be so ridiculously inconsiderate? Didn’t they know that people were trying to sleep? Couldn’t they work out when vampires were in their coffins? I stuffed my pillow in my ears and turned on Harry Potter on tape.
But finally, mid-February, I marched upstairs to put an end to fun in room 207. Two young women in bras and short shorts opened the door, and I yelped, essentially, “Quiet down or else!” They didn’t look nearly as sheepish as they should have given the circumstances, but they apologized. And stopped moving the damn furniture.
Those kind of clarifying moments help you know what you want or need. When there is noise and confusion above you and you are trying to sleep, it’s pretty clear that you need quiet. If you’re locked outside, you need to be let in. So many times, though, it’s hard to know. Sometimes I feel weird and sad, and I know I need something, but I don’t know what. And how can you ask for something that you don’t know you need?
When that happens, I do one of two things. I either freak out and scurry around my mind trying to figure out what the heck is wrong, or I sit down and tell myself: “I need something. Now. And I am the one who will get it for me.” That kind of self-reliance and introspection is calming, because when I can say what I need, to myself or to other people, then I can let it go.
In some ways, I am like Reo, with his animal instincts and moodiness. But human nature is so complicated and often our needs are shadowy and unclear. A straightforward “MEOW” gets the attention, but then it’s up to us to figure out— what am I yelping about, anyway?