Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rain Rides

For my few, but fellow bike commuters this morning:

Horses and Men in Rain

Let us sit by a hissing steam radiator a winter’s day, gray wind pattering frozen raindrops on the window,
And let us talk about milk wagon drivers and grocery delivery boys.

Let us keep our feet in wool slippers and mix hot punches—and talk about mail carriers and messenger boys slipping along the icy sidewalks.
Let us write of olden, golden days and hunters of the Holy Grail and men called “knights” riding horses in the rain, in the cold frozen rain for ladies they loved.

A roustabout hunched on a coal wagon goes by, icicles drip on his hat rim, sheets of ice wrapping the hunks of coal, the caravanserai a gray blur in slant of rain.
Let us nudge the steam radiator with our wool slippers and write poems of Launcelot, the hero, and Roland, the hero, and all the olden golden men who rode horses in the rain.

-Carl Sandburg

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Saying Goodbye

Dressed and ready for work yesterday, I stopped at the door suddenly sure, suddenly scared, and suddenly sad. I stumbled in the dark to wake my partner and told her I thought it was Casey's last day and should I go to work? She said she didn't know. I didn't know either. I had a call into the vet who might know, but it was early and we hadn't talked yet. I needed an answer.     
I don't ask much of my pets - they wouldn't win most well-behaved or prettiest pet contests- but I hoped I would know, hoped they would tell me when their time came... and I secretly asked this of them. Yesterday morning before I walked out the door, Casey answered the question, the hardest question perhaps, to ask an animal - is it time to put you down?  

Casey "Lil Girl" Jones came to me in June 1995, a month after I graduated from college. She was in the humane society in Burlington, Vermont in a cage with another orange cat, a long-haired blue-eyed boy who was so handsome that when I asked the staff about the orange kitty, they assumed I meant him and said he was already taken. I clarified that I was asking about the kitten with the underbite and the extra toes. Was she taken? Luckily, no.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   That night, some friends, my dad, and my sister and I were going to the Grateful Dead show at the fairgrounds in Highgate. The kitten came too. In the parking lot, the deadheads loved her. She needed a name and they wanted to name her. Jerry and Sugar Magnolia were the top suggestions. She also needed a miracle ticket. My friend, Diana, needed a miracle as well, so unless they got one, she and Lil Girl planned to listen together from the parking lot. We'd see them after the show. The kitten, still unnamed, was about to reveal some of her spicy nature that would endear her to so many in her life. Sometime during the show a group of young guys, with Diana and an orange ball of fur leading the way, busted down the gate and rushed the stage. Soon after Casey Jones got her name, and this rollin' and tumblin' kitty got her chips cashed in and was ready to truck. 
Truck she did, too. This six-toed cat crossed the country 5 times by travel trailer and by tent. She out-wiled a wily Coyote in Yellowstone and chased a strange white animal from the car in the Badlands. She leapt from apartment balconies two stories high, and once took a plane to Myrtle Beach. She’s lived on a lake, in the mountains, and under the hot Mojave sun. At 15, her cheek blew up, not because she was sick, but because she was out fighting and got an abscess the size of a golf ball on the side of her face. At 16, she caught her first and only mouse. A month later, a bird, and then later still, a bat. I doubt they ever stood a chance. As I disposed of the bat, I thanked her for showing me that we're never older than our dreams even if they sometimes take awhile.

And then yesterday, her last day, was a great day. The kind of day when you're grateful you somehow got it right. The kind of day that lets you know you're in the middle of an irreplaceable moment, and you're forever thankful you realized it. Yesterday, Casey went outside in the early morning for the last time. She then settled in on the couch where she spent most of the rest of the day eating bacon, yelling at the other pets, and getting lots of love from us. We sat with her for hours and told her all she did in her life beginning with that first Grateful Dead concert nearly 17 years ago. She purred through every story, kiss, and teardrop that fell on her orange ears. When the vet arrived, she began to growl, and she continued to growl as her twilight approached keeping her spice right ‘til the end.

So, that’s it. Nine lives comes down to a decision in the living room made next to paisley chairs and coffee tables; a decision that leaves the world four pounds lighter and a household heavier.  But is there a better way for pets to die than being surrounded by those who love them best, their fur streaked with tears, their journey eased by hearing the same things they've heard over and over since the day they moved in? You're such a good kitty, we love you so much, you're such a good kitty, we love you so much, you're such a good kitty... I really want to know because I keep thinking about Lil Girl on a green blanket surrounded and surrendered by those whom she loved best. 
                                                                                                                                                            The sad part, I’m finding out today, is that I cannot do anything for her anymore. I've done the last thing I can do.  Sure, we will spread her ashes under the Japanese Maple, and figure out a way to leave more of her ashes in her favorite spot on the driveway where she rolled around in the sunshine, but the every day stuff, the things for which she depended on me, is done. There's nothing else. From 16 to 0 in less than 24 hours.

Thanks to Louise Mesher
Although so much is finished now, there is a little more to this story. Last night just before 2 am, I was awakened by a small growl followed by a mournful cry in the backyard. I listened as long as it lasted and wondered if a neighborhood cat had come by to pay her respects to Lil Girl. Maybe, maybe not, but she's been known to leave her mark on stranger hearts.