One year gone

Today marks one year since Gordo died. He was cremated and I planted tiger lilies (given to me by a thoughtful and knowing friend) above the place in our yard where I scattered the ashes. The flowers bloomed and then died, and I fretted until my friend told flowers for Gordome they would grow back again the next season.

One day recently, Ian started to accidentally mow over the burial spot and the lawn mower—which is electric and had full batteries—sputtered and stopped working. “Gordo says hi,” he told me later.

The flowers are growing again now, and should bloom soon.

In the year since Gordo died, I’ve thought about him often. Every day, most likely, since I see things all over the house that remind me of him. I almost started crying when I opened a box of Band Aids recently—peeling off their wrappers would cause him to come running from wherever he was and he would beg to be able to eat the paper.

At first I wasn’t sure how I’d sleep, since every night for nearly 16 years he would curl up under my chin and purr me to sleep, but soon after he was gone BK started sleeping where he used to. She tried to be sneaky about it at first—she’d climb into bed this is how we sleptand get between Ian and me as usual, but when I would wake up in the morning she’d be on my right side, snuggled up to me and my pillow just like Gordo used to. (Well, almost. She’s not super into being spooned like he was.) Now, though, she is pretty obvious about what she’s doing and many nights she’ll immediately settle down next to me and start purring. I’m not sure if she set out to intentionally comfort me, but it worked. It still works.

I don’t see him in Dragon (what we finally settled on as a name for the male foster kitten we ended up adopting) at all, which is a relief. I was so afraid I was subconsciously trying to replace him by adopting another male ginger cat, but he’s pretty much the exact opposite of Gordo. He’s a kinetic ball of energy, and is both skittish and brave at the same time. He isn’t too fond of people, but he loves BK and King Boo and Stella is his best friend. He’s not super cuddly, and I don’t think I could ever hold him long enough to cry into his fur, but he brings a different joy and energy into the house.

And this morning, I woke up with both him and BK sleeping next to me.

I knew the feelings of hollow sadness wouldn’t last forever, but it’s a relief to have made it a year and be able to think back easily and sweetly of the time I spent with Gordo. He was one cool cat who lived a good, long life. So rest in peace, old buddy. I’ll be drinking in your honor today.

RIP Gordo

Every year is getting shorter

Time is ticking out

I hung up a clock today. A real, old-school, two-hands one. I can’t remember the last time I had a clock in my house that made that noise—tick, tick, tick—and it’s a bit disconcerting.

Tick—time is passing.
Tick—you’re getting older.
Tick—time is running out.

It’s easy to waste seconds when we can’t hear them being spent.

Tick, tick, tick. Three more gone. Tick, tick, tick. You better do something, the clock taunts me. Tick, tick, tick. What will you have to show for your time when it’s up?

My first foster failure

Two months ago, I overestimated myself.

Ian and I agreed to foster two neighborhood feral kittens until they were old enough to be spayed and neutered and adopted out, and I thought, “Oh sure, it’s too soon for us to get another cat so it won’t be a problem. I’ll find these siblings a nice home with some nice folks and everything will be fine.”

foster kittens

At first, we were only supposed to keep them for a week. Just to help out a neighbor who was overwhelmed with foster kittens. But then I went to Chicago for a week with Stella and Ian agreed to keep the kittens even longer.

That should’ve been my first clue.

Eventually they gained enough weight that they could be fixed, and then it was time to try to adopt them out. My neighbor and I brought them to a high-end pet supply store to talk to customers and hopefully find them homes with people who spend hundreds of dollars on pet food every month, and we found a man who wanted to bring home a kitten for his hyper dog to play with. I was skeptical, but the people who worked at the store knew him and said he was very good to his pets and would provide Rafi, the boy kitten, a great home.

I walked him out to his car with the kitten and wouldn’t let go of his car door. I gave him my phone number and pleaded with him to call me for any reason, and told him that he could bring the kitten back at any time—no questions asked.

That should’ve been my second clue.

I got home and cried all night, and Ian made me Moscow mules to drown my sadness. I knew it was a good thing that one of the kittens had gotten adopted out, but I felt in the back of my mind like I’d failed him somehow. I decided we were going to keep the girl kitten because I couldn’t bear going through that again. I wasn’t being rational.

That should’ve been my third clue.

But the next day the man called and said his dog had urinated in protest all over his house—twice—and he was bringing the kitten back. I was filled with relief.

That should’ve been the clue that smacked me in my delusional face.

Rafi and Stella

My neighbor asked if I wanted to hit the pet supply store again, but I declined. A friend/co-worker and his 16-year-old daughter were looking for a kitten, and he told me they’d adopt one. I knew they were good to their pets and would be good to the kitten, so I invited them to come visit me for the day and choose one.

I expected they’d pick the boy, since he’d previously been the more outgoing, friendly and not-scared-of-anything kitten, but while they were here Rafi hid almost the entire time. Instead it was Jane (who we’d nicknamed Scorpion Princess because of the way she folded her tail over her back when excited), historically skittish and unfriendly except with King Boo, who captured their attention. She played excitedly with my friend’s daughter and inspected their puppy (from afar) and showed no fear. It’s one of the few times I’ve actually seen an animal choose its owner. So while I knew I’d miss her, I knew she was going to the right place.

As soon as they left with her I cried, but then I saw King Boo grooming Rafi. And later, as the two of them wrestled and ran around the house, I realized I had gotten a kitten for my cat.

King Boo plays father-figure to Rafi

All of the guilt I’d felt with adopting them out was tied into how much King Boo loved having them around. We’d started calling him Papa Boo because of the way he’d supervise their play time, and then jump in to diffuse things and lick their fur back into place. The whole time we were fostering we joked that Jane was his girlfriend, but now that she’s gone he snuggles with Rafi just as much. They sleep together in the bed each night, they nap in my desk chair together every afternoon and they wrestle the shit out of each other at least five times a day.

Despite all of the attention he paid to me, I think I’d been trying to push Rafi away a bit because he was a male orange tabby and I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to replace Gordo. But as the vet told me the other day when I took him in for shots and they knowingly chuckled at my first foster failure, you can never replace a pet. And not keeping Rafi because he is the same color as Gordo, even though he’d endeared himself to everyone in the family including Stella, wouldn’t be fair to him.

So here we are, a three-cat family again. I’m slightly annoyed with myself for thinking I could foster so easily, but then I see how happy King Boo is to have a cat friend again and I figure it’ll work out OK.

My world is always full of cats

It’s been almost two months since Gordo died. I’m still sad, but I think I’m done grieving in the every-minute-of-every-day sense. Little things around the house remind me of him all the time, but I’m able to smile at the memories now instead of feeling this immense sense of helpless loss. I still haven’t buried his remains, though. I need to do that before the beautiful tiger lily bulbs my friend brought me die, too.

We’re now fostering two seven-week-old orange tabby kittens at our house, which has been an interesting challenge. One of our neighbors runs a trap/neuter/release program in the neighborhood and ended up with six feral kittens that needed to be fostered and socialized, so we took two—and it seemed fitting to help out the orange ones. There’s a male and a female, even though only about 25 percent of all orange tabbies are females.

A little mid-day nap is always a good idea.

They were fairly wild when we first got them a week and a half ago, but now they’re definitely domesticated. King Boo has made friends with the little girl—he grooms her and plays with her and it’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. Stella loves them both, of course, but is partial to the little boy because he’s not afraid of her and lets her groom him. They both eat Stella’s food and Stella will eat theirs if I don’t watch her. She’s got this thing for wet cat food that I don’t understand, but that dog will do anything for just a spoonful.

Well these two became BFFs pretty quickly.

BK, of course, gives zero shits about the kittens. She’s allowing them to exist in her presence, and that’s all we can ask of her.

Our house has been a bit of a zoo lately, but it’s been fun. In a way it feels cathartic to foster these kittens. I can’t keep them for various reasons, but it’s nice to be able to help the little guys out for a while. And the fact that they resemble Gordo makes it a little bit more meaningful.

Maybe I’m reaching there, but it’s helping.

Day three

I’m not sure how long you’re supposed to grieve for a pet, but right now I feel like my grief is never going to end. I went out with friends last night and had a good time and I thought oh cool, maybe I’m feeling OK now. But then I woke up this morning and as soon as Ian and Stella left I started crying and I really haven’t stopped.

sunday snugglesI know, deep down, that it was the right thing to do. The right time. Gordo hadn’t eaten any food since at least Thursday, and he would barely eat the few cat treats I set in front of him Friday and Saturday. Sunday afternoon he laid with me on the couch for a bit, but I could tell he wasn’t very comfortable. That night I put him up in the bed and instead of curling up with me he just kind of sat there. I woke up later and he was gone, but then I woke up again and he’d gotten back up there and was laying next to me, but still not cuddling like he usually did. Monday morning, it became obvious it was time.

He could barely walk a few steps without falling over sideways. He still pawed at the shower glass to get in like he’d been doing for the past couple weeks, and he still drank some water from the tiles once he got in, but then he stayed in there for a while just sitting there. When he came out of the bathroom later that morning I put him on his heating pad, but I could tell things weren’t right. I spent the morning and early afternoon with him, and then we went to our 1:30 p.m. vet appointment and the vet agreed that it was time to let him go.

So we did.

And then we left the vet’s office with an empty cat carrier and came home to a house that now only has two cats. I saw a napkin on the table and realized that I didn’t have to worry about it getting shredded. I unwrapped a tampon and for the first time in years didn’t have that mouthy orange cat come running, meowing because he loves crinkly paper. I saw the Slanket I’d left on the couch and realized I won’t have to put it up anymore so it won’t get peed on. Amazon delivered a box of puppy training pads that afternoon, which I’d been using since Gordo hadn’t been able to get into the litter box for a few weeks. I saw the handful of medications I’d been putting in his food still sitting on the counter. They’re still sitting there.

I can’t bring myself to wash the blankets on the couch because his fur is still on them.

The last two nights I’ve gotten into bed and caught myself waiting for him to climb up on the small step-stool and then to the ottoman, both set up a year or so ago as makeshift stairs to help him climb up to the bed. I don’t know how long I’ll keep waking up and immediately feeling lonely because he’s not curled up with me.

I spent so much energy preparing for the actual end—knowing when it was time and would I make the decision or would I come home to find him already gone?—that I don’t think I fully considered what it would feel like without him here. One of my friends mentioned the “horrible dark feeling” of the loss and that’s exactly what it is. He was a part of my daily life for 16 years and now he’s gone and his absence is so, so loud.

The end.

this is how we sleptWe look for meaning in death, and it’s easy to understand why. It never feels like we’ve had enough time, so we look for signs to make peace with the end. Signs that it’s the right time, if we’re the ones making the decision. Signs that it was meant to be, if we’re not.

But the truth is that we never really do have enough time, and I don’t think there’s a way to feel confident that it’s perfect timing when a decision needs to be made (or it’s made for you). You just do your best with what you’ve got.

Gordo was my companion for 16 years. I was 19 when I got him—a lifetime ago. He was with me through changing jobs, boyfriends, homes. He licked Ian when we started dating and that meant we were going to get married. He comforted me when I was sad, and made biscuits on my shoelaces before I’d leave the house. Every night he got in the bed and requested I turn on my right side so he could curl up under my chin, my arm wrapped around him so he could fit his head in the palm of my hand. I used to not be able to sleep unless he was there.

Gordo was my friend. And now he’s gone.

What feels like spring

Birds chirping. Sun shining. Grass growing. Wind blowing.

Barenaked Ladies on repeat. The old stuff, though, starting with Gordon.

Thinking about packing up the space heater. Dreaming of working from patios, or without pants in the house.

Cats finding sunshine and not moving for hours. The dog gets in on this game now, too.

Walks in the morning and the evening. Waving to neighbors. Emails about crime ramping up again, as it does when the weather gets warm, and struggling with leaving the house because of it for a while.

The smell of leaving windows open all day. Hiking without jackets. Wishing I could find a field like that one at MTSU all those years ago, when I left the Mass Comm building after changing my major, and I felt completely content except for being alone.

Because now I’m not, and having someone to walk through fields with—metaphorically or no—makes every season’s change so much more welcome.

We’re getting there

Happy dogStella is the first dog I’ve ever had, so I’m not sure if she’s more or less protective than most. But she is a great watch-dog. I feel safer when she’s in the house with me, especially at night. She does this thing where she’s sitting on the floor by the couch with us and she thinks she hears something, but instead of a full-on bark she kind of puffs. Like “buff, buff!” It starts out strong but gets quieter, until she’s sure the danger has passed.

She’s getting good at recognizing Ian’s car and footsteps, and she rarely barks anymore when he comes home at night unless his arrival wakes her up from a nap.

I’ve been working on training her to walk on a loose leash, with varying degrees of success. She still pulls, but I’ve found that tying a half-hitch around her waist just above her legs—so that when she pulls it puts some pressure there—helps tone it down some. Wednesday night it snowed, though, and all bets were off. She wanted to plow her way through untouched snow all over the neighborhood yesterday morning, and who was I to stop her? I wanted to do the same thing.

UntitledIt’s funny how having a dog suddenly makes all outdoors adventures much more fun. I loved hiking before, but now that we have Stella it’s all I want to do on the weekends. And I’d never dream of going without her. Last year we got about the same amount of snow (8 inches) and we were all “Let’s throw the cats outside for a few minutes. Ok, back inside!” But this year? I woke up Thursday morning and the first thing I did was take Stella outside so we could explore our neighborhood covered in a puffy white blanket. Ian ran around in the backyard with her. The cats were still unimpressed.

Having a dog is still challenging at times, especially when all I want to do is lay around or play a video game and she wants me to watch her sit outside and eat sticks. Or let her inside, and then outside, and then inside again. And then outside. But for the most part, we’re past the “developing routines” stage and into a good rhythm. We’re at the beginning of the fun part, I think. Somewhere among house-breaking and obedience classes and hikes and bar-hopping I acquired this little sidekick, and I rarely want to go anywhere without her now.

Rattling around

I’ve got all this stuff rolling around in my head lately, but I can’t quite make sense of it. I can’t even see what it is, really. I feel like there’s this part of my mind that’s obscured, like I can only get a glimpse if I don’t look directly at it. I know it wants to find a way out of here, though, because I’ve been remembering my dreams lately. That generally happens only when my mind is full and can’t handle all the weird shit it produces on its own without some sort of intervention from my mouth or fingers to get it all out.

I always think I’m a great compartmentalizer until I start remembering my dreams. Then everything runs together and I realize that compartmentalization, for the most part, is bullshit. Everything is intertwined.

Anyway, I’m not really at the point in my dreams where I can tell what’s going on upstairs yet, but the dreams are coming fast and plentifully. I really need to keep a journal by my bed so that I can write down anything I remember as soon as I wake up. It all fades so quickly—I had an entire dream on the tip of my tongue this morning but as soon as I started recounting it, it escaped me. I could actually hear myself forgetting it as I spoke, and now all I remember is that I’d found a journal belonging to Carole King and unlocked the secret of who she wrote all of her sad songs about. The name was unfamiliar to me, but I don’t remember it now. I guess it doesn’t matter.

Maybe the dream was telling me that I need to get better about writing down my thoughts. Or maybe it was hinting that I shouldn’t write my thoughts down because one day someone unessential to my life will find them and share in my secrets undeservedly and then forget them, as though they don’t matter.

Maybe it was my subconscious telling me to write down my dreams.

How meta.

Making the most of the time we have left

Gordo is dying. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with him—he’s been poked and prodded and had enough blood drawn to make the Red Cross vampires jealous, but all of his blood work has come back normal. He’s in great health for a 15-year-old cat, the vet says. But he’s lost several pounds in the last few years, and two of those pounds were lost in the last three months.

In November he had some digestive issues, so I took him to see the vet (who is a wonderful cat-only vet that we love). She noticed that his thyroid could be felt through his throat and suggested some routine bloodwork. That all came back fine, and after a couple days on some medicine his issues cleared up and he seemed back to normal, though still thin.

Then the Sunday before Christmas, he had a seizure. We caught the whole thing on video, weirdly enough, because at the time it happened Ian and I were in the living room setting up our new Dropcam. We weren’t sure exactly what happened until we went back and watched the clip, and being able to save a clip of the episode and show the vet helped her diagnose the seizure.

But man, it was scary. We were futzing with the Dropcam when Gordo came running into the living room with a piece of paper in his mouth (he’s obsessed with crinkly paper), and Stella came in after him. He turned and swatted at her like he always does, and she reached up and popped him on the top of the head (she flails her paws when she thinks the cats want to play, though she usually doesn’t make contact). He hissed and walked away from her, and then circled around to the side of the coffee table to hop up on it. But his hind legs wouldn’t let him jump. He walked in a little circle near the couch and then fell down, his hind legs twitching but unable to support him.

We heard him meow and that’s when I noticed he was laying down on the ground, drooling, dazed and unable to move. My first thought was that Stella had done something to him (not on purpose, but she is larger than him) so I hollered for Ian to get her out of the room. I touched his back toes, and when he made no reaction I got really scared. He absolutely hates his feet being touched, so this was a bad sign. I petted his head for a while, sure that this was the end.

He stared straight ahead for what seemed like 10 minutes but was probably only 45 seconds, and then all of a sudden he snapped out of it. He looked up at me, confused but alert, and then slowly stood up. He limped around for a few seconds, and I decided to see if he would eat some treats (my idea of how sick my cats are always hinges on whether they will eat or drink readily). He did—in fact, he ate them like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Then he limped around a bit more, but after about an hour he was back to normal. He jumped up on the table and then to the couch and laid on my lap, purring and content once again.

At the vet’s office the following Tuesday, she reviewed the clip I’d brought and determined that the way his body acted physically, combined with him seeming dazed and then snapping out of it, plus being ravenous after the whole ordeal, indicated that he’d had a seizure. But since it was only a one-time thing, she didn’t want to treat him with anti-seizure medication. She drew blood to do a full thyroid panel, which then came back negative again, and she noted we might not ever know what caused the seizure.

I asked her if the dog popping him on the head could have caused it, but she and her staff doubted it. For one, Stella would have had to hit him really hard to cause any kind of event, and she just tapped him. Our vet said if we wanted to really try to attribute it to the dog, maybe his adrenaline was going because she was near him and he doesn’t like her, and then when he had trouble jumping that increased his adrenaline again and he just got kind of overloaded. So I’m thankful that she doesn’t think Stella was the cause, at least not directly.

Ugh, and my heart broke watching the clip from the Dropcam. As soon as Gordo fell down, Stella knew something was wrong. The other cats ran away, but not Stella. Before he even started crying out, Stella ran to him and sniffed his back legs, and when he meowed she immediately looked up to Ian, who was standing near them but not aware of the situation unfolding yet. And then our first instinct was to move her away from him, even though she was the first responder, so to speak. That cat punches Stella in the face every chance he gets, and she still loves him.

Anyway, there isn’t really anything we can do for Gordo. He’s taking a glucosamine supplement because he’s old and has been acting a bit stiff lately anyway, and I’m feeding him wet food once or twice a day to help keep his weight up (which BK is loving since she gets in on this as well). We woke up New Year’s Day and found he had vomit on his ear, which could indicate he’d had another seizure overnight, but who knows. I stopped by the vet’s office and she said she wants proof of another seizure before treating him, and I completely agree.

People have been telling me for a while to start preparing myself emotionally for his death, and I don’t think I was ready to do that until he had the seizure. But now I’m ready. I’m done poking and prodding him—my goal now is to make sure he is happy and comfortable. So he’s going to get all the wet food he can eat, plus some sips of beer (his old favorite) and bites of pizza crusts (his new favorite).

I’ve known this cat for 15 years and can read him better than I can most people. He doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do, and when he’s ready to die he’ll die. My hope is that I won’t have to help him. For now, though, he’s still got some spark left. He’s still running around after balls of paper, having Wrestlemania with King Boo, and he’s still snuggling under my chin every night when I go to sleep.

Cats are funny in that they can be so attached to people yet still so independent and in tune with nature and their instincts. It’s like they straddle this line of a certain existence, as though they live in a sort of purgatory—caught between their true nature and the nature of humans. In the end, though, nature claims all of us, regardless of who or what we are. And we can’t fight that, no matter how hard we try.