“We all need some fire in our belly to get us through those days when the garbage truck has been by, and the bins of nourishment are empty.” – Critter, on coping with depression on Valentine’s Day.
My morning alarm slips a cold, wet finger into my ear. It trickles into my listening holes with tinny plink-plonks that irritate the hell out of my brain.
I open my eyes to a dark February morning. I am NOT feeling the love for this day.
The dream is over, my heart whispers.
What dream? I wonder. I close my eyes and try to remember.
Then, my face spreads in an involuntary smile.
Oh! I think. THAT dream.
It was one of my escapist dreams, a fantasy that always comes when I’m feeling extra worthless.
In last night’s iteration, a long ago crush revealed he had always wanted me. I became his. I trailed along behind this half-remembered he-man, aching for the moment when we would dive into reckless oblivion.
But then my fucking alarm butted in. Goddamn fucking piece of electronic trash.
Back in my bed, I sigh and try to raise my thousand-pound body. I’ve got shit to do: two small kids need me to wake and dress them, feed and fight with them. I have to herd their catlike brains while mine strains with rage, and resist the urge to drive off a bridge on the way to daycare and school.
Dread steals my breath.
“I can’t do this,” I groan to no one, and bury my face in the pillow.
“Sure you can,” comes a rodenty voice out of nowhere.
I crack an eyelid and turn my head toward the movement beside me. I can just make out the silhouette of my imaginary raccoon.
“No, Critter,” I say. “I can’t. And I don’t want to. I just want to go back to that dream.”
“What was so great about the dream?” Critter asks.
“It was delicious,” I say. “I was supercharged with anticipation and totally self-assured… the opposite of my real life.”
Critter nods and smiles gently.
“You smell like excitement and sadness,” she says.
“It wasn’t a sad dream,” I argue.
Critter tilts her head.
“Did you… achieve fulfilment?” she asks.
I shake my head.
“Why not?” she asks.
I close my eyes and think back… Mr. Spectacular was holding my hand; my palm was dry. I was blissfully free of the constant, nauseating self-consciousness that usually oozes from my pores.
We were at the beefcake’s office, and he was hiring me to help his business grow. He wanted ME to make HIM stronger. His faith made me giddy.
Then, my childhood best friend appeared. She was being super bitchy, and kept asking irritating questions like, ‘What are you going to tell your husband?’ and, ‘What’s going to happen to your kids?’
I said to myself, “Damn, she’s jealous!” and tried to ditch her. But she kept hounding. My Hot Beef Sandwich disappeared as I scrambled away from the guilt-trip. That’s when I woke up.
Now, the tone of the dream shifts in my memory. My heart flops.
“Aw, shit, Critter,” I say. “I’m a whore, aren’t I?”
Critter laughs out loud.
“HA!” she says. “A whore? I WISH. Our conversations would be much more interesting.”
I cross my arms and harumph.
“Fine,” I grumble. “I’m a boring whore.”
“Well, now you’re a pouty, boring, whore.” Critter counters. “But seriously, what makes you think you’re a prostitute?”
I take a deep breath.
“It’s because I am empty inside, I would sell anything to fill my hole,” I explain. “I am desperate to be validated and I fantasize about destroying my family. I’m fucking pathetic.”
I pull the sheet over my head.
Critter gently tugs, and I give in and lower the cloth to my nose.
“You’re not as reprehensible as you think,” she says. “In fact, you’re making a characteristically human mistake.”
I frown beneath the sheet.
Critter sighs and shakes her head.
“Your species has a strange mythology around sex,” she says. “You tell endless stories about how intercourse proves your worth. But sex can’t do that.”
I consider this quietly.
“Do you think we’re too obsessed with sex?” I ask.
“Not at all!” Critter cries, rolling her eyes. “Good lord. If anything, you humans don’t think about it enough. You don’t see sex and respect it for what it is.”
My heart aches.
“I wish someone saw ME and respected me for what I am,” I say.
Critter’s eyes widen and she shakes my shoulders with both hands.
“You NEED to be seen!” she exclaims. “And accepted, and embraced. But you’ve got the process backwards. You think it’s all your partner’s job.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“Well, where does this magical approval come from, then?” I ask. “Are you going to say I need an audience?”
Critter covers her face and laughs into her tiny hands.
“Oh my acorns,” she says. “THAT would knock your insecurity loose. You’re hilarious.”
I frown as my imaginary raccoon shakes with silent laughter. When it passes, she wipes her eyes and sighs. Then, she looks kindly into mine.
“You need to masturbate more,” she says. “All humanity needs to get better at pleasuring itself.”
My jaw hangs open.
“Are you serious?” I stammer.
“As a forest fire,” Critter nods.
A red wave of embarrassment splashes over my face.
Critter points at me and haws.
“Look at you!” she says. “You can’t even talk about buttering your muffin. How do you expect to master the art of dialing your rotary phone? Visiting your safe deposit box? Auditioning your finger puppets?”
I cover my eyes and chuckle. Critter smiles.
“It’s not like I don’t know how…” I say, my cheeks glowing medium-rare.
Critter slaps her forehead.
“But you’re doing it wrong!” she says. “Consider that feeling you had in your dream, when you thought you were about to have a Meg Ryan-worthy moment with someone that you worshipped.”
I recall the delirious thrill that eclipsed my self-doubt.
“Now,” Critter says, “imagine you felt that way about paddling your pink canoe.”
I try to imagine it. The idea seems odd… but strangely liberating.
“Don’t you see?” Critter cries. “Pleasure isn’t a gift from a steaming hunk of man-meat. It’s something that you own, and you can touch it any time you want.”
I rub my forehead and chuckle.
“Good lord,” I say. “So, you’re saying that if I feed myself pleasure, my emptiness won’t devour my life?”
Critter’s eyes crinkle warmly.
“Exactly,” she says. “You just need to make yourself feel beautiful.”
That feels kind of right.
“Do raccoons need to feel sexy?” I ask.
“Of course!” Critter says. “We all need some fire in our belly to get us through those days when the garbage truck has been by, and the bins of nourishment are empty.”
“Wow, Critter,” I say. “Raccoon sexuality is weirdly uplifting.”
Critter grins and says, “Now you know why they always say, ‘You can’t pour from a leaky cup; you have to fill your own hole.”
“That’s not how that goes,” I chuckle.
“Sure it is,” she says. “You just never realized it.”
Then with a wink, my imaginary raccoon hops off my bed and disappears into the dark hallway. I slide onto my feet, smiling now, and get ready to face my day.
However YOU want to interpret Critter’s Self-Love Sermon, we hope that you start to see your hole in a kinder light. May you fill it with pleasure that gets you out of bed on your dark mornings.
“And whenever someone says ‘self-love,’” Critter adds, “I hope you giggle. Because if you’re not enjoying it, you’re doing it wrong.”