I’m going to come clean and admit that this has been a terrible month for me. Anything good that happened is negligible, a blurry photograph at a happy occasion that’s bound to happen again anyway. All good things were cancelled out by the death of my beloved 17 year old cat, Chick, 2 weeks ago on March 12.
This was the last photo taken of him, on a Sunday night, while I was watching Homeland, and I was blissfully unaware that Lymphoma was speedily destroying him. Six days after this photo was taken, I took him to the vet because he hadn’t been himself all week, hiding, barely eating and having difficulty breathing. It was a Saturday. I dropped him off for X-rays and the vet called me later with the grim diagnosis. Of course I was prepared to hand over whatever money it took to heal him. I’ve maxed out my credit cards before to bring him back to health. Only… only I was told there was nothing that could be done except to take him in to be euthanized when the time came. When his quality of life seemed to be compromised. That time came just two days later. Blue Monday. One week and one day after this photo was taken, he was gone.
Chick was kind of my world for 16 and a half years. I had found him in the Bronx in July 2001. He was sitting on a windowsill. The window was open, about two flights up in a PreWar building, and he was staring at pigeons, looking like he might leap at them and fall to the ground below. I went right in and picked him up and never put him down again. This was my cat. At that time I had 3 other adored felines at home, but no matter. My cat. And right now I have two other cats that I love, but Chick was special. You know that you’re not going to have them forever, but I half refused to believe that. I thought I’d have at least several more years of waking up with him sleeping next to my face and giving me that heartbreaking wide-eyed stare when I opened my eyes in the morning. Two other cats and a boyfriend sleep with me, but Chick was always what I touched first thing. Ugh, this sucks. I’m crying again.
I cried for what seemed like three days straight. And then off and on for about another week. And I’m crying now and it’s been 15 days since I last held and kissed him as he left his body.
My final night with Chick had to have been orchestrated by my guardian angels. He had come out from behind the couch to the bedroom and jumped into bed (which he hadn’t done all week, so rare for him to not be next to me as I slept). He placed himself on my pillow and fell asleep as Danny played him music (Chick loved guitar!), with his head in my hand. His favorite things.
Dammit to hell. Crying again.
My point today, though, is not to dwell on this. Don’t you know, I’m much more of a private mourner? That I howled and sobbed when entering the vet’s office to pick Chick up after I heard the diagnosis that Saturday, was excruciatingly embarrassing. I made a scene. I hate scenes! There I was, conjuring up my best impression–only it wasn’t an impression but truly so fucking genuine– of a black-clad Sicilian woman at her child’s deathbed. Of course I was wearing black because I wear black everyday anyway, but… this was a display that I couldn’t even control. And I was in public. Damn Sicilian blood making me all publicly passionate. While the vet assistant consoled me, not for the first time I wished that I were more controlled like my Dad’s Eastern European side of the family. I clearly remember my grandmother and her sister didn’t shed a tear at their father’s funeral. Yeah, that will never be me. Bring on the smelling salts so that I don’t faint at the gravesite. Hold me back so that I don’t try and jump on the coffin on the way down.
Grieving sucks. You know what makes it almost bearable? Eating. Eating and drinking. And working out like a fiend. And throwing myself into work. But really, eating and drinking. That’s some awesome shit right there. Not that I drank myself to sleep or anything
maybe once. There was a night when Danny and I sipped wine in the hot tub, both of us crying as we reminisced. I think it’s important to go ahead and force yourself to enjoy life when mourning a death, whether that be your best furry friend or a human loved one.
I had an annoying experience whilst on my quest to get that donut, by the way. While standing on line, a woman in front of me asked, “Are you sure you really want that donut?” Ostensibly she was trying to make conversation (have I mentioned how much I despise small talk? She couldn’t have known), but I was taken aback by this question because the implication was… well, I didn’t even need to speculate, because she followed that up with, “when I buy things like that, I always hate myself afterwards.”
It got me thinking. Besides the fact that strangers should keep their neuroses to themselves, I realized many of us waste too much time in life regretting donuts. I’m not even that into donuts and eat only one or two a year, if that. When I buy one, I really fucking want it, so leave me alone. But damn, did this woman need me to tell her, “I had to put my cat to sleep on Monday and I can’t rid myself of the image of all light and life leaving his eyes. I can’t rid myself of the feeling of his body quickly losing warmth as I kissed his face for the last time. But I sure can drown my sorrows in this sugary vegan baked good, along with copious amounts of wine later. You gonna judge me for that too? Be my guest. Just stop talking.”
Actually, what I did instead, and by all means, praise me for my graciousness because normally I’m pretty blunt and have been known to offend others, was put on my very rarely seen “Southern Charm,” that I’ve been learning from ladies of Louisiana. The woman told me she was from New Jersey, here in NOLA for the first time, and did I know of any good places to get something to eat. She made a disparaging remark about the South, once she heard that I, too, am a Yankee born and raised, not so far from New Jersey, in fact right across the Hudson. I pointed her in the direction of my neighborhood favorites, while I could have just as easily pointed her in the direction of some French Quarter tourist trap. I actually have way too much pride to do something so awful though. By hell or high water, this woman would leave NOLA in love with its food and culture.
The younger version of myself, say, the age I was when I first encountered Chick almost 17 years ago, might have been beleaguered with doubt. Is she saying I’m fat and that I should avoid sweets? Do I look unhealthy? Do I really need this donut after all? And then, then I might have said something extremely rude to her like, “How about you mind your fucking business?” because I used to pretend I was tough. I used to cover up a lot of self doubt and insecurities with a sharp tongue and a middle finger. I used to punch walls and break things and I didn’t care if anyone witnessed it.
Amazing what almost 17 years has accomplished. Amazing how you might reevaluate yourself when you lose something or someone that has been a significant part of your life for over a decade and a half. An entire generation of you growing up, perhaps becoming more zen or more assertive or whatever the better–no not better– the more mature version of you needs to be.
I hadn’t intended for this blog post to be so reflective. I actually thought I was just going to show some flashy pictures of sweets and libations used to heal my emotional scars. There’s just so much that happened in the 16 years and 8 months that I had Chick. Love affairs, break-ups, cross-country moves and major career changes. I owned a business. I worked with people with Developmental Disabilities. I completed my yoga teacher training. I moved away from my birthplace, my family, across the country. I traveled the world. I lost my other three cats (all lived to old age, not as old as Chick, though).
Bronx. Manhattan. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Lawrence, Kansas. Kansas City, Missouri. Uptown, New Orleans. Faubourg Marigny, New Orleans. Bayou Sauvage. Cairo, Egypt. Barcelona. Lisbon. Florence. Berlin… So many places, I cannot keep track. So many moves, so many travels, so much writing (never enough), a couple novels in fact, and there was that bar I owned and operated for about 4 years during all that, so many people in and out of my life… my life constantly in flux up until… very recently. Sixteen and a half years. My companion at my side throughout. In fact I was able to nurse him back to life after a surgical procedure almost killed him when he was 3. I took off time from work. I visited him daily in the hospital that kept him for several weeks. At home, in the bathroom he wouldn’t leave to eat or drink, I fed him with a spoon. His nose went from dry and white to pink and damp. He gained enough weight so that his spine didn’t stick out making him look like he belonged on a Halloween card. He lived another 13 years after that.
Yes. That donut was just what I needed, lady. And I didn’t hate myself after eating it, nor do I now, two weeks later when that donut is but a saccharine, distant memory. I have not eaten another. Got that donut out of my system, lady. I’m back to my typical healthy eating regimen. I’m back to not spending more time at the gym than at home because that’s not healthy either. But know that I devoured that fucking donut, lady.
Chick displaying amazing tolerance, given the fact that he was 11 when I brought 2 hellion kittens named Klaus and Sparrow into the house.
I encourage all my loved ones to do the same, to devour things, if and when they ever have to. I’ll even bring over the donuts and bubbly if you don’t want to be by yourself.