As I washed my hands in the Minneapolis Airport bathroom, I cringed at my reflection in the mirror. After 24 hours of projectile vomiting while home for the holidays, my face looked like it had been put in a time machine and sent to my post-mortem years. Blue bags under my eyes. Busted capillaries all around my nose. And my skin was the color of wet chalk. I half expected a maggot to crawl out of my ear.
My only solace, as I boarded my plane home to Oakland, was that I’d get to crawl in bed with my elderly cat Ralph, and let his warm, purring softness restore my skin to a human color. Three days left of holiday vacation, and I vowed to make every day a day of recovery.
“Ralph!” I cried, when I got home. “Ralphie Ralph!!”
I had never been happier to greet a cat in my entire life. Our reunion was sweet. I picked him up, held him close, and he purred so hard that he squeaked. Then, ice leaked into my guts when I noticed all around the house, little piles of cat puke everywhere.
“Oh no, Monkey, what happened?” I asked, knowing the answer already. “No, monkey. What is all of this?” Ralph left no area of the house uncovered. The only thing missing was little christmas bow toppers on each pile.
His food bowl was full, and untouched. Always a bad sign.
As I walked to the dumpster, a sack of cat puke in my fist, an evil wind whipped through my skeleton. Funny how I’d just spent five days in Minnesota, enduring temperatures well below freezing, but this wind was colder than anything I’d experienced in a long time. It was a wind… with an agenda.
“Be gone with you, evil wind!” I shouted uselessly to the night sky.
But peace did not come. Nor would it come for months. I was, in fact, only at the beginning of a time of terror.
I put on several layers of pajamas, crawled into bed, and played a Netflix movie. I needed a distraction. I needed solace. When he wasn’t barfing, Ralph sat on my lap, offering what he could in the form of comfort. It didn’t help.
The wind continued to howl through the night. I couldn’t get warm. I couldn’t sleep. The demons that had visited me just a week ago, on Christmas, returned to beat and kick my brain while it was weak. It wasn’t until Ralph crawled under the blankets and lay against my belly, that I managed to drift off.
When I awoke the next morning, there were three little piles of cat puke on my bed. Ralph still hadn’t touched his food, and he was now looking tired, and dull in the eyes. If you’re ever in doubt about a cats health, look into their eyes. Are they bright? Or do they look like warm beer? This is how you know.
I brought him to the vet that afternoon. After several absurdly expensive tests, the official diagnosis was acute pancreatitis (which is, incidentally, what killed my beloved cat–and Ralph’s gay lover– Henry, only a few years before.)
“Well…There’s a slight chance he may make it,” said the vet. “We’ll send you home with some pain medications, and some fluids you’ll need to inject. If he’s not showing any interest in food after another day or so, we’ll need to discuss….. other options.”
When I got home, I spent approximately three hours sobbing into Ralph’s fur. Slimy sobs, that left him looking like something that crawled out of a lagoon.
“Oh, Monkey” I blubbered. “My sweet monkey.”
By 5:00 PM my eyes were bone dry, and my skull was cracking. Ralph was chilling, blissed out on cat narcotics. I wished I had some narcotics to send me off on a cloud of bliss, but all I had was a joint and a mostly empty bottle of whiskey. I hadn’t touched either since my episode back at my parents house, the night the Gingerbread Universe imploded. But maybe it was time.
“Happy New Years Eve!” Shouted my roommate Kathline and her friend Audrey, bursting in the door.
“Oh fuck. It’s New Years Eve” I said. I had been so out of it the past few days,I had completely forgotten it was the last day of 2014.
New Years is not my fave. I much prefer Christmas, in all her fat flamboyance. You can stay home and drink all day on Christmas, and hang out with a tree. On New Years, you’re supposed to get dressed up and go Somewhere. Pay $25.00 or more for a cheap glass of champagne at some club full of fake-ass bitches. And at midnight, because I’m always single, I never have anyone to kiss. So, there are approximately 60 seconds of painful awkwardness where I’m standing there toasting the empty space around me. “Happy new year everyone,” I’ll say, smiling kindly like an old man. “Have fun, ya crazy kids”
“You got any plans for tonight?” Asked Audrey.
“You know, ha ha, I only just realized it was New Years Eve.” I said. “Rough day. So, no. No plans. What are you going to do?”
“We’re just going to hang out here, and bake banana bread. Maybe watch something on Netflix.”
“Ah, that sounds perfect,” I said. It really did sound perfect. Truth be told, I’d done all the crying I could possibly do for that day. I’d found the boredom on the other side of sadness, and was ready for something else.
I smoked some festive greens, and sat next to Ralph, who was gazing up at me in a narcotic love haze. Ralph was a truly awesome cat. Not a mean bone in his body. All he ever cared about in life was snuggling as much as possible. The quintissential Love King. Suddenly, I envisioned crowning him with the most blinged out new years hat any cat has ever worn. The thought grew into a compulsion to act. And the compulsion to act led me to the crafting supplies drawer, where I fished out some glitter, and a glue gun, and some accoutrements, and sat down with the ladies baking in the kitchen.
As far as crafting is concerned, I’m much more of a visionary than a builder. I like organizing craft nights, setting up crafting tables, and giving advice about crafts. However, with some glue and glitter and construction paper, my hands turn to stumps, and my creations end up looking like something Martha Stewart would shit out after juice fasting for a week. But this does NOT stop me from the joys of crafting. No sir. The power of glitter always compels me.
Ralph came out, and sat on my lap while I hacked away at some foam core and wrestled with the glue gun. The ladies of the house cooed and clucked over him. After about an hour or so, I’d completed my project: Two special-ed art project new years eve hats.. One for me, and one for Ralph.
“C’mon Monkey, let’s take some selfies.” I said, dragging him into my room.
Ralph was always a good sport about me putting shit on his head, and snapping his photo. He had the temperament of a dreamy poet, and viewed every weird thing I did to him with studied amusement. He was the perfect photographic subject.
And finally, our New Years Eve photo:
I didn’t realize, until I posted this photo on facebook for all the world to see, that I’d actually wrote down the wrong year. Technically, it was NYE 2014, not NYE 2015! Doy.
New Years Day was quiet, cold and dark. I had a variety of veterinary tasks on my to-do list I was deeply dreading: Injecting the cat with fluids, and forcing a pill into into the cat’s face. After a long dreadful struggle, (which required back-up support from my friend Julie) I completed the list. I sighed, wiping tears from my face.
“God, this shit is shitty.” I sighed.
“Hey, why don’t you get out of the house for a little bit,” said Julie. “Come over to my place for dinner. I think Ralph will be okay for now.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I need a little break. That was intense.”
I filled up a hot water bottle, and placed it next to him to snuggle with. While I was putting my coat on, and saying goodbye to Ralph, he looked up at me and then, he gave me…… the signal.
What’s the signal? The signal is a telepathic message from my cat, letting me know his time has come. The signal is Ralph’s part of an agreement we made, about a year ago, when his health began to fail. The agreement was put in place to quell the constant free floating dread that banged around in my heart whenever the cat so much as sneezed. Quite simply the agreement states that:
Ralph (the undersigned) will let me know when it’s the end, by giving me the signal. (And how will he know? What is knowing for a creature with only a walnut for a brain? I will leave that part in the hands of the great mystery). My end of the bargain is a: not to spaz out constantly over his health, proclaiming loudly “THE CAT’S GONNA DIE!! THE CAT’S GONNA DIE.” until the signal and and b: upon receiving the signal, make the arrangements to send him, quickly and painlessly, to the “warm lap in the sky” as my Dad calls it.
Saying goodbye to a pet is tough. It rips your heart out in ways you can’t imagine. When I put down my first cat Henry, three years ago, I felt a part of myself died in that room with him. It’s a part I’ll never get back. And that’s okay. I’m willing to let that part of myself go to the warm lap in the sky too. Why not? A warm lap sounds awesome. And the hole that is left behind can just stay dark and empty. Like a boarded up room in a house.
Ralph looked deeply, lovingly into my eyes and blinked slowly.
“Monkey. Is that……. the signal?” I asked.
“This is it?” I asked. “For sure? Forreals? For superrealls? The signal?”
“Okay then,” I said, and kissed his head. “No more tests, no more x-rays, no more probing and poking your pathetic old body. Tomorrow, you die.”
I dined at my friends house with peace in my heart.
The next day, I made Ralph’s final vet appointment. My best friend Adriana, who had been in Mexico for two months and JUST returned a day earlier, showed up at my door, dressed head to toe in all black. My personal Grim Reaper with a heart of gold.
“Fuck. I wish we were reuniting under better circumstances,” I said, wiping tears away, as we loaded Ralph into his carrier.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m just happy to see you,” she said. “Really. It’s an honor to do this shit.”
The details of Ralph’s death are not worth sharing. As anyone who’s put a pet down knows: The process is quick, painless, and sweet. The kind of death most humans are denied unless they’ve got access hardcore drugs. The debate over legal euthanasia for suffering humans drags on and on….muddled up with religious ideals, rugged individualism, and a dismissal of the inevitable. Why not guarantee every person (who doesn’t die in a car wreck or something) a painless, sweet, passing to the next dimension? Would would we sleep easier at night if we knew? Would we live life more fully? Eat more ice cream? Take more risks?
When I got home from the vet, Adriana and I shared a very stiff drink.
“Do you think you’ll get another cat one day?” asked my roommate Kathline, when I told her the news.
“I don’t know,” I said, thinking of the harrowing events of the last few days “I can’t imagine my life without cats. But….”
“Maybe you could take a break from being a crazy cat lady,” offered Adriana. “I mean, we all know you’re good at that. Have you ever NOT had a cat in your house?”
“No,” I said, taking a brief look back at my life. “I was a cat lady since BIRTH.” As a matter of fact, my first official word was not mama, or dada, but “kitty.” Kitties of all shapes and sizes filled my days and nights from the very beginning of my time on earth. Meowing, purring, fighting, barfing cats. Grown cats, kittens, deformed cats, humpy homo cats, even dead deformed kittens hanging out of a cats vagina. I could not possibly fathom a life without cats. And yet, the suggestion intrigued me. Even in my deepest grief, I’m always up for a challenge. “We’ll see,” I said, finishing my drink.
“You’d still be crazy” offered Adriana, sensing my softening reluctance. “Just….without the cats. For awhile. As an experiment.”
I slept heavy and deep that night. Dreamless. Cadaverous. Unfortunately, it was the last good night sleep I’d have for months.
A few weeks later, on the night of my 39th birthday, I had my first full-blown panic attack, complete with all the whistles bells and death knolls. But that’s an adventure story for next time.
Happy New Years!