Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sitting with Cats

“That’s what people do when tragedy strikes. They come over, and sit.” – Lars and the Real Girl

I’m sitting on my bed with my cat. Her name is Tiger. I named her that when I was five years old, and she was a kitten. She was born here, in the room right underneath the one I’m in now. Sometime today, or possibly tonight or tomorrow, she will die here.

Tiger is lying on her side, more or less the way my brother found her earlier this afternoon, except by now I’ve moved her into the quiet and relative dark of my bedroom. When we found her outside like this I sat with her while my mother wrapped her in a baby blanket. We brought her into the kitchen and laid her on an old couch cushion. When she mewed at me plaintively I took off my sweater/pajama robe and placed it on top of her blanket. After a while the light and noise of the kitchen seemed too much for her, so we retreated to my room. Now we’re sitting on my bed, a space heater trained on her and her two layers of blankets, and we’re waiting.

Every now and then she half wakes up and calls for me. I give her a dropper full of water and stroke her neck until she falls back asleep. She’s getting more peaceful all the time. And in a weird way, so am I.

I’ve had a lot of contact with tragedy this year, much of it oddly remote. 2009 more or less began with a short series of deaths I had to hear about by phone – a suicide, a removed breathing tube, my beloved dog’s sudden heart failure, and so on. When you aren’t near the incident and the world is spinning by so quickly it’s hard for any of it to settle in the way that it needs to. You hear about something, you sit on the floor for a moment, but before you know it you’re back to work or school or social commitments and it’s hard to believe that anything really happened. When you sit and think about it you might notice a dull ache somewhere in your chest, but it abates slower and ever slower until the day you can actually come home and notice the empty place in the kitchen, for example, or the strange absence of a sound you didn’t notice you’d been taking for granted for so very long. That’s when it’s real. That’s when you can hurt in the way that you really need to hurt.

This is the first time I can remember being near the tragedy while it happens. All my life someone or something has been in the way, helping me pretend that the world isn’t changing. Now, instead, I’m sitting in my room, and it’s quiet, and most of the time I’m just watching a dying cat breathe. I’m staying peaceful so that she can be peaceful, because 18 years is more than long enough for a cat and she deserves to go out so softly that she barely notices the transition. And I’m staying right here because no matter how much people like to say that you’re born alone and you die alone, I know that’s frankly not true. You were born with someone there to hold you, and that’s why you’re alive today. I really don’t see why we shouldn’t try to always live – and die – in more or less that same way.

So I’m sitting. And right now, sitting feels right.

Edit: Tiger died peacefully in her sleep at approximately 6:20 PM today. She will be missed, but only in the best of ways.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Four O'Clock

It’s 4:00 in the morning, and I am awake.

Let me clarify: it’s 4:00 in the morning, and I am still awake, sitting on my bed with my back against the wall, the dog who is my bedfellow having decided to commandeer my pillows while I was out of the room getting a past-midnight snack. I know I’m being a Great Big Pushover, letting her stay there while I take the less comfortable position, but at least she’s using the pillows for their intended purpose; namely, sleep.

I, on the other hand, am still awake.

I tried my usual things. I watched reruns of Frasier and Top Chef and Criminal Minds until the light and noise from the television set seemed terribly obnoxious. I soaked in a bubble bath until I was bored. I read some 70 pages of Running with Scissors, which is not a great choice when you’re already feeling a little insane. I also, Facebook informs me, played 20 games of Bejeweled Blitz in 30 minutes. But my spatial reasoning skills are slipping, and at 4:00 in the morning an inability to set the new high score feels like a serious personal failing, so eventually I had to quit playing the game and turn to less intellectual pursuits. Hence the aimless blogging.

I’ve always laughed at people who said things like “4 AM in the morning,” thinking they must not want me to confuse that with the 4 AM that comes in the afternoon. It’s like when people say, “I was thinking in my head,” which always makes me wonder if they normally think in their elbows. But I would like to state for emphasis that it is now past 4 AM. In the morning.

Perhaps I should read something a little more soothing, like that James Herriot book I have lying on my floor somewhere. Or some Kafka. It is almost Halloween, after all, which is a perfect time to reread The Metamorphosis. You should try it. Everyone you know will be reading Edgar Allen Poe (hey, that rhymes!), but Kafka’s got some chilling stuff too. Obviously it’s different – it’s more “your reality has inexplicably changed, so you’d better get used to it because you have no control over anything” and less “there are body parts hidden under the floor and I can still hear the beating of his horrible heart!” – but it is nonetheless appropriate for the season.

I have shifting dreams and unidentifiable needs and a life-size picture of John Kerry. I have slightly wet hair and an implacable cough and a head that’s all full of congestion. My right leg is asleep but the rest of me isn’t and it’s going on 4:33.

I’m having surgery next week so I can breathe properly through my nose and I hope by then to have clear sinuses. For the third time in my life, I’m afraid of the dark.


That’s enough writing for me. Good night, good day, or good morning, depending on how you believe.