Essence

Nine years ago I fell in love with a little white ball of fluff with a big, black nose. I thought: That kitten looks like a teddy bear. I want that kitten.
That kitten did not want me.
Another one in the litter at the cat rescue we visited worked hard to gain our attention. He cuddled and purred and curled into our laps, mewing a plea for passage to a permanent home.
But this Teddy Bear? He turned up his little black nose at us and padded away, refusing our affections.
We compromised and adopted both kittens. They would be this blended family’s first official pets. The Twin Terrors — as we dubbed them since they were born on September 11 — were a constant source of joy and occasional frustration. The Teddy Bear bonded with the girls, particularly Girl from the West.

The cats were an interesting pair. We trained them to stay in our yard and rarely did they break the rule. Teddy, who remained aloof with adults, befriended the dog next door, forging a lifetime friendship in which one would arrive at the fence and patiently await the arrival of the other. They sniffed at one another and chased back and forth along the property line.
Three years ago we were heartbroken when the friendly brother suddenly went into liver failure and died. Teddy Bear paced the house, peering under furniture and behind curtains in a fruitless search for his pal.
Our remaining cat now goes through the same paces and clings to our side as we adjust to life without the Teddy Bear in our house. We lost him to a swift-moving cancer. Girl from the West’s graduation carries the memory of her beloved pet’s euthanasia only hours earlier.
I’ve written a lot here lately about pain. This might suggest life is grim for me. Not the case. It’s an even mix of joy and sorrow.

The essence of life.

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Cat in a cold metal freezer

In fourteen days, my first-born will turn 18. She will cast a ballot in her first presidential election this November. If all goes as planned — we are in the waiting and receiving answers stage of the college application process — she will be a college student somewhere this fall.  We have an uncertain road between there and here. Mainly we need to figure out how to fill those deep, dark potholes of want and need with tuition, books and housing money. Needless to say, I’ve been a little weepy and preoccupied with my soon- to-be half-empty nest.

Nests make me think of birds and birds make me think of cats. This recent post by Katherine asked “What animal parts are in your refrigerator?” and that made me think of our beloved cat, who died swiftly and unexpectedly three years ago in January. So, to answer her question and to sneak in an older post you may have missed the first time around, I present the following from April 17, 2009:

 

sleep

Our cat was alive, just sleeping, in this 2003 picture

As you may recall, one of our “twin terror” cats died in January. After the tears and an indoor “service” we placed one of the cat brothers on ice while the other brother looked at us with infinite confusion.

Oh, the humanity!

Oh, the humanity!

This is what our veterinarian suggested in January. When there was a foot of snow on the ground and we hadn’t seen grass or dirt since sometime in November. He said: “If you know anyone with a deep freezer, put him there … or we can take him here.”

There was a fee involved.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of writing a check to have my cat wrapped, sealed, and tossed in a cooler with other dead pets, seemed, oh, I don’t know, callous?

And the very idea of calling around to friends and family seemed queer also. I mean, how do you ask? Mass e-mail? Individual phone call?

“Do you have a deep freezer, Aunt May?”

“Yes, I do, dear. Did your husband get a deer this season? Did you buy a side of beef?”

“Oh, no, it’s for our cat.”

“I’m sure there are other disciplinary measures you can take before resorting to this, dear.”

“No. No. He’s dead. The cat is dead.”

CLICK.

We don’t store or prepare meat in our household, so we have no need for a big freezer. Ours is just a dinky little box filled to the brim with crystallized ice cream and freezer-burned stir fry mixes. I couldn’t imagine grabbing ol’ fluffy by the frozen tail and shifting him to the left so we can reach for the Garden Burgers.

God forbid if he tumbled to the floor, like so many other frozen items from our freezer do when the door is pulled open too quickly. That would go over well with the babysitter, I’m sure.

“You’re out of ice pops, but you have a dead cat in your freezer. By the way, I’m busy for the next year. Don’t call.”

Through word of mouth, we found a discreet volunteer, one who is used to such matters, who offered up space in a big freezer in her garage. We drove several hours to her place. Sweet dead kitty was swaddled in a flannel sheet, wrapped in a bag, surrounded with all his favorite toys, cat treats, and a few messages written on note paper. It was all very Egyptian. Or maybe more like the The Sopranos?

Time passed. The snow melted. The ground thawed.

Still, kitty remained frozen in limbo.

Then, as the buds unfurled on the trees and bushes,  a few inquiries blossomed in my e-mail inbox.

“About your cat ….I think it’s time.”

So, this weekend, without further delay, we are hauling out the old metal cooler, getting a block of ice from the local gas station, and hitting the road. We’re bringing the ol’ boy home for a burial.

You know what’s the most interesting thing about this? I ended my search for a new cat/kitten a while ago when none could be found. Just today I had an e-mail about a litter of kittens available immediately.

Timing. Interesting isn’t it?

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Space cat


During daylight repose it’s hard to detect,
‘neath midnight fur lies something suspect.
When in slumber’s neglect,
as souls drift unchecked,
and guard abandons gate,
the unassuming beast’s powers awake.
Whatever you do,
however your stir,
steer away from its beams,
tread away from the light.
Keep eyes trained to the floor
and aim for the door.

Cute only goes so far

 For the sake of all humanity, do not say these things out loud:

“I really had a crush on you back in the day.”

 ”Do you still have your fat clothes, because I know someone who could use them.”

“Tomorrow I’m going to relax and take a day for myself.”

When you utter these words out loud, they hurtle into the cosmos for consideration.

The cosmos, being the bitch that it is, often lobs back this response on the appointed special day:

  •  You will be awakened at dawn to the sound of a floor lamp stem cracking in half and then falling like a mighty oak in the woods. The sound of metal and glass striking wood and plaster will jar you from your much-needed rest, while everyone else in the house snores away undisturbed. Your wishes lay in shards at your feet. So it is with your favorite lamp. 
  • You will haul a twisted, top-heavy lamp to the basement, to rest next to all the other broken junk that you think you will fix someday when the solution strikes you or an amazing handyman moves in next door. Next, you’ll haul the vacuum up the steps to pick up all the small pieces of glass embedded in the carpet. Muttering under your breath, you’ll put the room to rights and restore your morning. 
  • After coffee, a shower and a few other preparatory measures, you will return to the scene  of the crime  to discover that the four-footed perpetrator of destruction has struck again. This time it’s the potted plant next to the lamp. Except now the pot no longer houses a plant. Or dirt. It’s an empty vessel on its side. The contents are a muddy mix scatted in a wide arc across the carpet. The plant itself, one that you’ve nurtured along for 14 years is in a twisted heap, its willowy branches and leaves splayed unnaturally, exposing pale, tender roots. The whole display is reminiscent of an underage socialite at an after-hours party.  Under the nearby chair, you will see two yellow, unblinking and unrepentent eyes peering out at you.
  • In your haste to get on with your special day to yourself, which is seriously behind schedule and veering off course, you will grab the vacuum still handy from the previous spill, and begin to sweep over the muddy mix. Except the mix does not get sucked into the machinery, it adheres to the wheels and brush plates underneath, serving as more of a frosting knife than suction tool. So now you have transformed the arc of mud into a sunburst of mud. You consider mudding the walls to match and calling it a design concept.

Instead you burst into tears, shout a string of expletives and curse the day you gave up the dream of living alone in a mountain cabin.

Congratulations, your special day of aloneness and renewal include:  one broken lamp, one destroyed plant, one big black mucky circle on your office carpet and one indifferent kitten licking his left paw. Next move?

Trapping and killing the kitten?

Buying a wet/dry vac?

Jumping out the window, hopping into the car and driving to New Mexico?

For it is only through the spontaneous escape, the unplanned departure that you will ever, ever get your special day to yourself.

IMG_1839

See the blur of movement? Notice the trail of destruction? Cute, isn't it?

 

Right now …

clover

Free flowers from the lawn

…I’m easily manipulated by small gestures like bouquets of clover tucked into bud vases.

… I am living in the longest days of the year. Yet somehow I find myself with very few hours to get things like blog posts written and dinner cooked. 

… I have a work project that needs some attention, a 3-year-old who needs more attention, and a kitten who needs maximum security prison.

black-brown

He's not black in bright light; he's chocolate brown

… my flower beds are half-weeded and half-prepped and not planted for the season. I’m rethinking my garden strategy: I need to eliminate the need for annual flowers, rework beds to allow for 100 percent perennial plants. Out of the blue, a great friend (and talented gardener) shows up with a trunk full of  freshly split perennials and helps to rebuild and redesign an island garden that has gotten out of control.

purple

Purple bud on something

… our vegetable garden is showing signs of many good meals ahead and fresh salads every night.

garden

Right now I am focusing on these things and not all that other stuff.

Don't be jealous

creeping

Toulouse

 

A kitten is great when it curls up between your chin and your chest, purring and cuddling, claws retracted.

A kitten is not so great when you are prying it from the window screens, pulling it down from the drapes, coaxing it out from behind the stove, extracting it from a tangle of power cords.

A kitten is great when you look into his wide green eyes and consider the cat he will become, one who will have about an hour of energy and 23 hours of sleep. When this kitten stops trying to ride his older brother like a horse and learns a little respect, he will be a great companion. When this kitten learns how to control his claws, his countless urges to climb and leap and overturn, and how to use his litter box properly, well, then he will be a joy to behold.

Oh, who am I kidding? He still is.

Pass the peroxide and Band-Aids.

fuzzyface

Our cat has mood ring eyes: Sometimes they are green, sometimes they are yellow.

My funny valentine

mycat

Today we gave this cat a funeral. We are that kind of family.

No, when he was alive he didn’t sleep on a canopy bed with Laura Ashley sheets and we didn’t spoon out his Fancy Feast into a crystal goblet. We treat our cats like cats, which means they sleep on our bed.
This guy was just  the best damn cat I’ve ever had. And at five years of age, I think he deserved some kind of send-off for cashing out so early.
His death wasn’t unexpected. Around Thanksgiving he became freakishly ill. After three days’ treatment at the animal hospital for liver failure from unknown bacterial causes, he came home to what surely was an extended visit. We knew he’d never recover fully to the prancing, lithe hunter he once was. Seemingly overnight, he withered to a gaunt, jaundiced animal driven by an unsatiable hunger.
But he was still our funny little valentine.

This cat  forced us to adopt him when we really went to the cat rescue  to bring home his brother, who really didn’t want to go with us. So, we brought home both. We are that kind of family. This matched set of cats, little salt and pepper shakers, were a source of great joy and frustration and copious amounts of cat hair on the furniture.

But this one, he was something different. He nudged his wet nose into our lives and we fell in love instantly. 

This cat, who as a kitten, pried off a cold-air return vent in our spare room, plunged into our ductwork and had to be fished out of a hole cut into a duct.

This cat, who dug a hole under the property-line fence and fell into the neighbor’s pool last summer, somehow managed to get out and crawl home covered in algae and black slime.

This cat, who twice chased chipmunks into the house, holding them hostage under the couch until we discovered his secret stash.

This cat, who was so smart and trainable he plucked a set  of wind chimes in the kitchen when he wanted a treat. If you threw a toy mouse or ball of foil, he’d fetch it like a dog.

I don’t know why this 5-year-old cat died swiftly of an unknown illness while grizzled alley cats get run over by trucks and just keep going.  I don’t even ask anymore. 

I just thanked him for five years of love and adventure.

Be happy wherever you are, my little  valentine.