#reverb11: beginnings

My disappointment stands. So I didn’t want to re-use the prompt that most people are starting with today, because it speaks to me of its original author, who doesn’t need to be mentioned any more. Instead, I used Kaileen’s list of prompts and found a much more interesting beginning for this journey, a true moment in time. 

Where did 2011 begin? (from Kaileen Elise’s list of prompts)

This year began at home. I was nominally alone, my husband with his parents and probably asleep by that time of night anyway. I wasn’t really alone, though; the cat was there still, hanging on, sleeping almost all day long in a cinnamon-bun curl on my bed.

I had been shredding paper and watching Breaking Bad and reheating Chinese food during the day and into the night. I didn’t want to disturb the cat any more than the noise of the shredder did, so when he left the room I was in, I didn’t follow. He could nimbly jump to the top of our tall bed and nimbly dismounted when he felt like it. It astonished me every time. It seemed impossible that he could be so sick and yet the rest of his body worked like a toy fresh out of its Christmas clamshell packaging.

And on occasion, a few times a day, he would visit me. He would present his head, and I would present my hand, and then there was a meeting of the two, and his purr vibrated so loudly against the tumor in his throat that I would swear the whole neighborhood could hear. And after a few minutes he would go away, and he wouldn’t look at his food dish or his water dish, and the slow disintegration of his existence in this world would go on.

Myron came home soon after, and the cat lived on to see him again. The two of them spent long boy hours together. And then we made an appointment, and did the thing that you spend years trying not to think about, and brought home the empty carrier.

The year began in sorrow. The business of life went on all around it, the way it does, but sorrow tinted everything, and did for a while afterward.



from last summer, with the old cameraI’ve been thinking off and on about what I wanted to say since Friday, when we trudged into our catless house and Myron brought the carrier down into the basement. I feel like I need to stay brief so that I don’t ramble and get too emotional, and then I think—you are supposed to be emotional about this.

When I graduated from college and was truly on my own, one of my few criteria for housing was a pet-friendly rental. Luckily I found a teeny house for a teeny price and within two weeks I had a cat of my very own. And cat allergies too. Things happened and I wound up with two more, and to my mind, I had to stop before I entered crazy cat lady status. The first one was older when I got him; kidney failure took him in 2003. Then the second had diabetes and he died in 2007. Both times, the cats hid their final declines until the very end, the way cats do. Both times, administering the pink shot was something to be decided that very day. This time, every day was a new evaluation, watch and wait and listen and wonder how to choose a day. It wasn’t like he had to make his peace with anyone or that he would see the snow melt and watch for enemy chipmunks through the windows. The time for all of that was done. The longer I waited, the worse it was going to get.

The way the world is set up, we have dominion over the beasts, but anyone who has a much loved pet knows that they have dominion over us instead. I had to take that power back in choosing a day, in signing the paper, in holding him and stroking him when the end came, in apologizing over and over for everything from the cancer to the syringe feeding to the last car trip in the carrier. Myron held him from the other side and was the last thing the baby saw. Coming home after that appointment was everything I feared it would be. My eyes looked for him in every shadow, expecting him to sit on the stair and watch me make dinner or leap up to my bed to demand attention. Oh, I have attention in spades right now, with no good target. Today, with Myron back at work after the weekend, my body knows that something is missing in ways my brain can’t soothe. It has been more than thirteen years since I’ve lived a petless life, and adjusting to one again is going to take a while. I prefer life with a good beast in the house that has dominion over me.

my familiar

turning on the camera woke him up from nappingDuring the days, this beastie is my attendant spirit in animal form. In this picture to the right, he’s offended, per usual. I don’t mean to offend him, but it’s so easy. He’s a prickly little man.

One day, eleven years ago, I took a long lunch with some coworker gals, one of whom needed to run to Wal-Mart. It was June in Georgia, a brutally muggy and sunny day. Outside the left entrance were a few children with a box of kittens—squealing, meowling kittens as skinny and dirty as the children giving them away. There was a Cool Whip bowl with filthy water inside the box. Any other day I might have passed them by, but not that day. If you’d been there, you would have seen the caption to the scene: Daddy says we kin drown the others in the crick what’s left over. I told them to save me one of the gray males, and inside Wal-Mart I picked up a bag of Kitten Chow. When I claimed the kitten, the oldest child picked him up by his rear leg to hand him to me.

The little bit of fur cried and scratched the whole ride home. I marveled at his feet, so huge for his palm-sized body, and his voice, an awful blend of Crypt Keeper and Linda Richman, which he’s never outgrown. 

I tried to name this cat for a long time. My other two cats’ names came to me like lightning, but this loud, oppy* kitten with its funny walk and skittish manner refused to be named. For weeks, he went from Guinness to Spike to Tiger to Smoke to Nermal. Nothing suited, and in conversation I called him the baby cat, waiting for the right name to come. Instead, he learned that his name was the baby. And so that is who he is now, the baby, no capital letters, with the definite inclusion of the definite article. Yes, it makes me sound strange when I pick him up from the vet and, without thinking, tell the technician “I’m here to pick up the baby.” But he has no other name. And he is very, very precisely the baby. 

I know. It’s awful. I’m sorry. He did deserve better. My cantankerous vet in Athens took her glasses off and wiped them when she saw him. “It’s a silver tabby!” (Not a purebred by any stretch, but still.) “That’s a three-hundred-dollar cat!” (Um, no.) And every subsequent visit she raised his value another hundred dollars, and kept his file under one of his old names. 

Although he grew bigger than either of my other two cats, he stayed rangy and lean, and his face looked babyish for years. One of the others, a squat, muscular tuxedo cat, pummeled him relentlessly, and the baby learned submission. It was easy for him, because I think the people who’d put him in that box on that hot day hadn’t been very nice to him. He never liked being picked up or held too closely, and the slightest movement will startle him out of a cozy, spoony snuggle. (“Scaredy” might have been a good name for him.) The tux handled my cross-continent moves with sleek grace, his face in the breeze of the car air conditioner, and the silver longhair slept the rides away patiently, but the baby hid in the back and yowled through more US states than a lot of human Americans have ever visited. And when we finally got to this house, he lived on top of the kitchen cabinets for the first day or two until he realized he was home for good, and then he came down to find new favorite spots and to critique patches of sun with all the discrimination of The Phantom Diner.

With the other two cats gone by now, he’s the alpha of the house. His face doesn’t look babyish anymore; his new vet calls him a Senior Cat (a very important title, just as important as alpha) and his lanky body has filled out. And he’s grown up, too, and his name suits him even less. He now climbs up on laps when they’re available, he head-butts any hand (occupied or unoccupied) for petting, and he prowls the downstairs like a sentinel, keeping a weather eye for the enemy: chipmunks and squirrels that come too close to the house. His odd voice still rings out when he wakes himself up from a dream, though, and then he’ll come to find one of us to tell us all about it, at length, with many meows. I’m pretty sure he’s suggesting story ideas, but I’m not smart enough to learn his language.

* I realized that probably no one else uses the word “oppy” so I went to check (nsfw) Urban Dictionary, and it’s there. The bigger surprise is that my high school is mentioned there in definition 2. Jeepers, we’re famous for Joe Montana and… oppy. Sigh.