Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Familiar Memorial

Fresh off a Two Hour nap, I attended a 40th Birthday Party for a friend recently. I felt myself as myself in perfect clarity.  These moments come now and again, more frequently.  The fog and strain of just figuring out what is going on subsides for a minute, and my essential self beams out, sometimes with a clarity and power that I have never known before.  It was a wonderful party and I was fully capable of enjoying it.
Sunflower stamens

But it was stressful to get there, to the party.  Coyote would not co-operate unless he could bring his new laptop, recently purchased with his own stash of birthday money.  I was pretty sure there'd be a surging sea of children threatening to overwhelm and drown everything else out and a computer would just get smashed, or lost, or forgotten.  It was stressful.  He trampled my last nerve.

It was just before equinox, and the days are shorter now than they have been for 6 months. After 38 full years here on this planet, the shift still catches me off guard. Our giant old orange cat, King Louis, was on the door step as we all stampeded out of the house, fuming and fussing, that night. I didn't know how long I'd last at the party (3 hrs!!), and I couldn't remember when it got dark, so I shooed him in.  He's old and slow, and would have been vulnerable to coyotes, an entree served on a silver platter with fork and knife and napkin.  I didn't see Blue's cat, small and black and young and quick -Cosmos- anywhere, but we'd only be gone a little while and I couldn't think through the chaos of leaving that night. He'd handle that okay, right?  We'd left him out past dark several times, even when we've been home, just because we forgot to bring him in.

King Louis was a shelter rescue who's been with us longer than Coyote.  We walked into the shelter and he rolled over the second he saw us and let us pet his tummy. We knew that was our cat instantly.  Impossibly huge, not fat, just enormous, he's elicited oohs and ahhs and shock from all visitors, usually like this, "Oh my god! Look how huge that cat is!"  Louis has always loved kids and has attended every birthday party my kids have had.  No skiddish kitty under the bed is he. He's a wise old cat too.  Up until a year or so ago, he would pop outside for five minutes and come back with an expertly disemboweled mouse or gofer. He's not hunted in some time now. Six years ago, when we move to Wenatchee, he went missing for three weeks.  We were sure he was dead, but then he showed up on the other side of town, skinny and confused, but alive and ready to be rehabilitated into our family.  But he's old, he's 15 or so now, and has renal failure.

And when Blue said she wanted a kitty for Christmas three years ago we figured that would be good timing. The new cat could learn all of the old cat tricks from Louis.  And we'd have someone to cuddle with when Louis kicks the bucket.  But that is not to be.

Chillin' on the clean laundry on the airhockey/laundry table
We all feel sad that we missed King Louis's obviously completely adorable kitten years.  And so Blue was set on a kitten.  After checking out every damn shelter, all kitten-less that Christmas, we finally went to a store.  It was full of kittens that they'd procured from all the shelters to keep their Christmas stock able to meet demand. The only requirements we gave Blue were that the kitten not be bat shit crazy.  She picked a calm black one and we were off.

He was adorable and way crazier than he first seemed.  He kept us up all night needing pets and attention.  He scratch every basket in the house to smithereens, despite having a centrally located scratching post.  He ruined the front door, despite the spray bottle squirts.  He did not care a whit about learning from the old wise cat.  He played with the mice instead of crushing their skulls.  He'd stand at the top of the stairs and bat at you as you walked down, pretending to be a panther in a tree.  We turned that into high-fives  And, tellingly, when we opened the door to the great outdoors, King Louis stands there and sniffs and if anything smells amiss, if there is any sign of trouble in the air, he turns around and stays in. Cosmos careened straight out the door with his devil-may-care attitude. And yet we adored him. So cuddly and small and perfect.

We couldn't find him that night after the party.  We yelled and searched. He'd been gone overnight a time or two before.  And Blue was confident he'd be on our porch in the morning.  He wasn't.

I think we've clarified here that I mostly hate people. I hate talking to strangers. I hate it all since my head injury.  But I've called every neighbor I have a number for. I've even done internet searching for neighbors I don't have numbers for. I have not felt self conscious or nervous at all about bothering and indeed annoying the crap out of my neighbors.  CHECK YOUR BARNS! Did you check your shed, your garage? Did you check yet? I've posted signs on every newspaper and mail box for a mile.  I've talked to neighbors I've never met before.  I've approached other recluses and they were nice and we chatted for 45 minutes.  I careened my car into someone's gravel driveway, spewing gravel everywhere, to catch her. I have no idea what has come over me, but I think it has to do with my head injury and the sense of power and entitlement I now feel to be me, to advocate for what I want, to be annoying if need be. What do I care what you think of me? There is no judge, no jury and nothing hangs in the balance, in reality, if my neighbors find it annoying.  And imagine my surprise that none of them seem annoyed! Many have even checked back in with me and seem to care and understand! Apparently it is normal to do whatever you can think up to do to find your beloved cat. I can't think what I've been so afraid of.

I am also here, canvassing the neighborhood, to bring some healing to my own trauma, I think.  My mother never understood my love for my nervous cocker spaniel, Lady, and my tuxedo cat, Charlie Chaplin (I was a huge fan of Chaplin's work and his style, wearing a bowler hat for much of 8th grade. I'm still a fan, finding more to love about him). When I was 15, my mother brought them both to the pound, not a no-kill shelter, where they'd get a few days reprieve among the masses of other discarded cats and dogs. I discovered this loss, I don't know how many days later, when I went to eat my breakfast on the front porch and no one came to lick my bowl. I asked my mother if she'd seen my cat and dog and she became very uncomfortable and said, "Well..."  She didn't like them, one had fleas, and we might move in a few months. I loved them, but that didn't matter to her, she couldn't hear that, believe that. She was a farm girl and cats were like rats to her.
8th Grade Graduation: found a dress to accommodate my bowler hat

A year and half ago some family members were going through old memorabilia and they found what was described to me as the most hilarious note from me to my mother, so funny, I just HAD to read it. In it I expressed my pain about her taking my pets to the pound.  It's clear that my mother was angry at me for being in a foul mood about it, and so I was explaining to her that without my pets to relieve my stress and sadness (I even cited pages from my health text book), it was unlikely I'd be pulling out of this funk any time soon.  So funny, right? the emotions of a bereft15 year old, hilarious stuff. I actually had to explain to them that it wasn't funny.  I'd somehow managed to nearly forget about the incident, to make up excuses about why it was okay, or I deserved it, or whatever, and move on with my life.  But this note brought it all back.  My mother apologized recently, nearly 20 years later; she says she has no idea what she could have possibly been thinking. But any time the loss of a pet occurs, I will be reminded of this. Apologies have been made and accepted, but it will always have happened. It will never not hurt when I talk about it.  It hurts to lose my pets, all pets, always. And it hurts to have been betrayed by someone I was hardwired to trust. And my guess is that this hunt for Cosmos is a bit about saying to the world and myself: hey! emotions are real, our relationships with our pets are real, and teen girls are real people who deserve respect and care.  It's about finding the cat, yes, but it's also about sending a message to my daughter and my wounded "inner teen" (is that a thing?) that we matter.

The kids were in the car when I pulled into old Marylou's drive way.  She was out sprinkling seeds for the quail (a.k.a. coyote bait) and I asked her if she'd seen our little black cat.  She has a black cat too, but she hadn't seen ours. She then launched in to an accounting of all the cats she's had that coyotes have taken, some right under her nose in broad daylight. Ixnay on the Oyotecays!!  Blue was right next to me, hearing all the gory tales. We are trying to hope that is not what happened.  The visual imagination is terrifying. Coyote began to wander out loud what Cosmos felt when the coyotes tore his leg off. (He was immediately hushed. He's 10 and it was no innocent wondering.) No, not to our kitty, that didn't happen to him. But Marylou persisted: once, someone driving by scared the coyote away.  And they brought the mangled, but living cat to her.  She assured them she was on the way to the vet and the good citified Samaritans left.  She took that cat out back and shot it. She eyed me, waiting for a reaction, for me, a relative newcomer to the country, to recoil. I would not give her the satisfaction so I said, "Yep, I grew up with shootin' kitties!"  It came out wrong, but had some truth to it. We had only boy cats that my parents never neutered.  Neutering was for chumps, despite the fact that Bob Barker reminded us how awesome it was after every Price Is Right, a popular show in our household.  Bob definitely got to me, but my parents remained impervious to his pleas. These cats, outside cats, disappeared every few years. We loved them, but they were accessories (By contrast, Charlie Chaplin was a neutered cat given to me, full grown.  He slept in my bed.)

Charlie Chaplin himself!
Once, a neighbor's pregnant cat made it's birthing bed in our basement.  At 7 I watched her poop out what looked like slimy mice and I thought it meant something was wrong with her digestive tract and was confused as to why I was pulled from the bathtub to watch.  One of her kittens found warmth and comfort in the car fan and had to be shot. I did not get the sense that my father enjoyed that activity at all.  But that is what I meant by "I grew up with shooting kitties!"  I meant that I knew that had to be done some times.

I disappointed her with my un-phased-ness.  And she persisted. The next time she saw that coyote coming up on another cat, she "went an' got my gu-un, and that sucker took off, the second he saw me with my gu-un."  Well, I wasn't sure I could take many more of these tales, so we skedaddled fast. And Blue says, "I forget some times how out in the country we live.  Gu-un.  She said 'Gu-un'!"

Turns out every neighbor has a tale or two of kitty to coyote loss.  It seems it's a right of passage here.
I told Coyote that if Cosmos isn't back by Sunday, I'm going to have to change his name.  But he loves his name, so I can't.

Slavin Reserve again!
Why not a chicken? I have five and I am completely unattached to them.  Sure, I love the fresh eggs, but they themselves are nothing to me. I'm just using them. I even have two black ones, if black was what that little fucker was looking for.  Please, eat my chickens! Half of them are too old to lay anyway and I don't know what to do with them. Eat them, please, it would be my pleasure.  But leave my kitties alone.

When do you grieve a missing cat? At what point do you call it? Why cry if that cat is going to come back in three weeks? But cry we will. And now the internet is just one big trigger-warning and is ruined for me now; just too many cute kitties. We miss him so much. I wake up at night and check the doors, not to see if they're locked, but to see if there's a little adorable black cat just outside them, needing shelter and food and water and pets.

The other night, some sound woke me up at 2am or so, and I wondered if it was little Cosmos, so I went to the door.  Something compelled me to step outside, into the dark night, into the stars, so numerous and bright out here.  There was a bit of cold on the edge of the breeze, and I let myself feel it.  I didn't shirk from it, or huddle away from it, but I let it chill me. I am, I exist here in four dimensions, in this body, full of senses.  And I heard them, the coyotes, echoing each other across Paradise Prairie.  Yipping and howling, not all at once, but one at a time, taking turns. It was so beautiful. It was so painfully beautiful. I love them, but they ate my daughter's cat so I can't love them. I don't know how to reconcile this. I just don't. This universe, so full of beauty, so full of everything my senses crave.  I was born to love it, to feel it, to know it. So much pain is here too; the distance between stars is long and cold and dark. Oh my vast cosmos! I love you and it hurts.

Excuse me while I kiss the sky


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