Tuesday, October 31, 2006

To Do List Speedily Dispatched

One corner of my apartment.

Last Friday there was no acupuncture because my adored acupuncturist had injured some of his needle-inserting fingers while surfing.

On Saturday morning, I dealt efficiently with several of the items on my to do list by crossing them off my to do list without doing them. David Sedaris has a piece in which he writes about his father criticizing his life as “one continuous round of pleasure.” That’s what we’re aiming for here.

I went to Rainbow for groceries, and as is now my custom, didn’t bother to buy much fruit, because I’ve been buying it at Whole Foods. Why is it that Rainbow’s Gala apples (from Oregon) are small and yellow and defeated-looking while the ones at Whole Foods are large and crisp and delicious, and, on top of that, come from even closer at hand? Maybe Whole Foods has contracted to buy every single good Gala apple grown in California.

If Rainbow ends up having to close its doors, not that I have heard any inkling of such a thing, it will be because everyone is shopping at Whole Foods instead. I guiltily recalled filling out a survey at Rainbow not long ago which was not titled “Why Do You Shop at Whole Foods Sometimes Instead of Here?” but I suspect that’s what they were trying to get at. One heartless fellow I saw there on Saturday was actually carrying a Whole Foods bag.

When I got home, I did my cooking, and in the evening Tom and I watched Paradise Now, about suicide bombers in Palestine, which was very good, and Loverboy, which is about a woman with a pathological, almost romantic, attachment to her child, and which was so-so, despite being directed by Kevin Bacon and featuring him in a smallish part. On the other hand, the mother’s dread of a future she can’t control and her tragic solution have come back to me a few times since, so maybe it was better than so-so.

Who has not felt that “I’m not going to be able to stand it” feeling?

On Sunday I went with a friend to the Berkeley Shambhala Center to meditate in the very beautiful meditation room there, followed by talking and eating and walking, which is exactly my kind of outing. It was delightful.

Yesterday I had to report for jury duty, a savage inconvenience in that the courthouse is not located anywhere near a Whole Foods, which I had forgotten about when I was buying only one banana at Rainbow and also when I was cooking a bunch of food I may not get to eat, as I’ll probably be eating more sandwiches than usual.

Jury duty was pretty much like being on an airplane, complete with a crying baby, people kicking the back of one’s seat, electronic gizmos making the same beeping noise over and over, clattering laptop keys, and one fellow agonizing at top volume to his new friends about what he will do if he’s called upon to impose the death penalty—this was civil court, by the way.

We had to fill out questionnaires and then we could leave for the day. I wrote that I don’t believe in monetary damages but rather in reconciliation and forgiveness (true, although I had just realized it while filling out the questionnaire). If I were really crafty (and didn’t mind being jailed for perjury) I could have covered all the bases by saying I also think purveyors of asbestos should get the death penalty. That would have made me unfit for a spectrum of cases.

To be on the safe side, I also filled out the hardship form. I hate to sound like one of those whiners who will do anything to get out of jury duty (though I am totally one of those whiners), but this case is going to be six weeks long and my back actually is sort of killing me lately, though I don’t have a doctor’s note to that effect—my doctor happens to be an AIDS specialist, and since I do not have AIDS, I don’t like to bother her with more than 10 or 15 trifling complaints per year.

Also, it is my custom to rise from my seat 95 times per hour to go wash my water cup and/or tea cup, to put something in the recycling bin, to fill my water bottle, to go to the bathroom, to visit my neighbors, to wash my tea filter, to brush my teeth, to put something in the microwave, to say hello to my boss, to get fresh water for my flowers, to wash silverware, or to show the two coworkers I’ve had for years the gang signal I’ve developed for us in case we fail to recognize each other in the hallway.

The signal is a C formed by the thumb and forefinger, dangled casually at thigh level, which stands for the application we administer; let’s call it Coursware. One coworker rejected it out of hand: “No.” The other said, “Be careful with that outside,” and mimicked me pleading for my life, squealing to an assailant, “It stands for Courseware!”

Monday, October 23, 2006

Water Boy on His Way to Gitmo?

This afternoon I went to Walgreens to drop off film and get more film, and was on my way to Whole Foods for apples, flowers, lemon olive oil and a vegan brownie when I came upon a driver, northbound on Third St., making a right on red onto Mission St. despite the presence of many pedestrians.

When the car following did the same thing, a frustrated pedestrian showered the roof and window of the offending little red auto with water from a cup he was holding. The car made its turn, and the pedestrian crossed the street. Soon the amplified voice of the law came blaring through the warm afternoon air: “Hey, water boy!”

The pedestrian must not have known this meant him, because he kept walking in the exact same manner and did not even take the opportunity to drop his plastic cup into a trash bin he was passing at that exact moment, as I certainly would have done.

I had meant to turn off Mission St., but had to see what was going to happen next, so I followed along and was immediately rewarded by the sound of running footsteps belonging to a police officer in full SWAT gear. Actually, I don’t know what full SWAT gear looks like, but he was in a frightening navy jumpsuit.

He stopped the pedestrian. I stopped, too, and gave my view of the matter, which was that water is not going to hurt a car, while red-light-running cars can easily hurt pedestrians. The police officer didn’t appear particularly gratified to receive my opinion, but was reasonably polite.

I walked on a bit, but couldn’t leave the apprehendee to sink into Guantanamo without a ripple, so I went back and gave him a piece of paper with my name and phone number on it.

I hope the water-hurling pedestrian was let off with a warning, though the police car that roared up with lights flashing makes it seem not so likely. I wonder where he was going and if he had to call his boss and say, “I’m sorry I never came from lunch, but I’m in jail.”

The Hammett news is all good. He is eating and drinking; he appears to be free of diarrhea and bleeding, and he seems to be enjoying himself mightily.

The Flagyl-giving went perfectly smoothly yesterday and this morning. Fundamentally, he is of a placid and trusting temperament. I think what went wrong Saturday morning was that I was hanging onto him too far down on his neck, leaving his head free to thrash about, and I probably didn’t insert the syringe far enough in, making it too easy for the Flagyl to foam back out.

He is a darling little fellow, very sweet. Pictures are coming soon, though to the untrained eye, they will probably look a good deal like pictures of Thelonious.

I’m trying to think of a way to begin the next anecdote without saying I was sitting on the toilet, but I can’t think of one, so: I was sitting on the toilet one day not long ago and my baggy cotton pants were therefore bunched on the floor. Everyone pees! (my acupuncturist has a copy of the book Everyone Poops in his bathroom) and so did I, and when I was done, before I could hoist my bloomers into operating position, Hammett leapt into them and began digging around, perhaps looking for the entrance to the wine cellar.

He moves fast. Just as one is thinking he is in the bathtub, he no longer is; now he is trying to climb into the refrigerator, and a second later he is batting a Ping-Pong ball across the floor.

A critical mass has been reached in regard to the number of people I do not recognize in People magazine, so I have canceled my subscription, though this has happened before and not proven to be permanent. The magazine is also featuring an inordinate number of stories about people who lost weight and how they did it, which I could not be less interested in.

I’m sure I’ve explained how the Atkins Diet works. I’m Atkins and this is my diet: Eat whatever you like, and if you gain weight, buy bigger clothes.

Over the weekend, Tom and David and Lisa and I had dinner at Osha on Valencia St., and Tom and I saw Brokeback Mountain. He hadn’t seen it yet. I was seeing for the third time, and it made me even more miserable than the first two times. How heartbreaking the final scene is, ditto when Ennis visits Jack’s childhood home.

On Sunday, I did my cooking and saw 12 and Holding, which was awful. While it was pretty to look at, the candy colors contrasted jarringly with the sorrowful events, and it couldn’t make up its mind whether it was a tragedy or kind of a stupid, even offensive, comedy: Look! A fat lady eating a pastry! Last but not least, while some of the performances were excellent, others were utterly unconvincing, and characters one was presumably supposed to feel sympathy for seemed like brats.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fortunately Unfortunately

My life is starting to feel like a book I had when I was a child that followed this pattern, except it was about going to work and being hit on the head by a rake and mine is about this:

Unfortunately, my beloved cat died. Fortunately, I got a new kitten. Unfortunately, the new kitten had bloody diarrhea. Fortunately, the vet said it was probably caused by worms and that medication would help. Unfortunately, she asked me to give the kitten Flagyl via syringe. Fortunately, the kitten readily took Flagyl via syringe, as the vet demonstrated. Whew!

Unfortunately, when I tried it myself, the kitten frantically shook his head and Flagyl foamed out of his mouth, ending up all over his face, on the floor, on my sheets, on my pillowcase and on my clothes. (Why, just the same as what happened when I gave Thelonious anything by syringe.)

Fortunately, the vet, upon being called, said that if any whatsoever had gotten in him, it was probably enough. (To be on the safe side and with her approval, after we got off the phone, I tried to administer another one-third of the dose and hope I haven't overdosed him. Probably not. Geeze, I hope not.)

Unfortunately, we have three more days of this!

At least I won't be so foolishly overconfident as to try this on my bed again.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Grim Reaper Beaten Back for Now

I took Hammett over to Mission Pet Hospital yesterday to see Dr. Gordon, who didn’t seem perturbed by the described symptoms, and recommended a couple of tests: a fecal float (test for worm eggs) and the ELISA test for giardia (which are parasites).

Normally, I would have everything done at MPH, but the SPCA pays for treatment for 30 days after you adopt an animal from there, besides which they are wonderful people and I retract any unflattering remarks made yesterday when I was going crazy over Hammett and pre-menstrual to boot, as it turned out.

I must also correct my account of having been enraged over Hammett walking on Thelonious’s cardboard carrying box, and not just because my mother said, “I hope this isn’t offensive, but I kind of thought you might be going overboard when you said one cat can’t walk on the other cat’s box because it might contaminate the hair sample. I confess a warning signal went off in my head: beep-beep-beep.” She added that she supposed I could send any hair in question to the FBI forensics lab.

But no, it is just that it wasn’t quite accurate (not to mention that it sounded awful: enraged at a cat?). The box in question is in my closet, which is normally forbidden to Hammett because various breakables have been placed there for the time being. Of course he has gained entry several times and of course has most wanted to do the thing I most don’t want him to do, as is the inborn nature of the cat.

When he did it yesterday, it was for about the fourth time and while I was freaking out about him bleeding on the floor, and I was distinctly and suddenly irritated, but “enraged” is going too far, unless you want to discuss the incident on Howard St. a few days ago when some fellow decided to pull his car into the bike lane, not letting my presence there be a deterrent. The fateful word (“moron”) again escaped my lips at an attention-attracting volume.

So, anyway, Dr. Gordon wrote down the tests he thought Hammy should have, and I received many congratulations from the front desk on having adopted a new kitten, plus when I said, “As in Kirk, not Dashiell,” one of the front desk people said, “I get it,” and described having met the real Kirk Hammett, who this person said seemed like a nice man, which I already knew from having seen Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.

I recommend that movie to anyone who enjoys documentaries, even if they don’t like the related musical genre. My ex-therapist liked it, for instance. My favorite part is when they say to Rob Trujillo, after having auditioned several bassists, “We want you to join Metallica, and to show our welcome, here’s a million dollars.”

(Rob Trujillo plays on Jerry Cantrell’s excellent CD Degradation Trip. Some time after Degradation Trip came out, the two-CD Degradation Trip, Vol. 1 & 2 came out and I wasn’t sure whether to buy it or not, since it had only X number of songs that weren’t on the original, but I did and it was absolutely worth it. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that Jerry Cantrell is a genius and that I have a ticket to see Alice in Chains at the Warfield in November!)

This morning Ham and I went over to the SPCA, where he was examined and given a deworming pill. I have to give him another in two weeks, plus switch him to bland food for seven days (Hill’s i/d), plus—here my heart sank—give him Flagyl via syringe for five days. Three syringes were thrust into my hand.

When I had to give Thelonious Flagyl in pill form, it made her foam at the mouth, and anything administered via syringe was also a misery, so the two together sounded dismal in the extreme, but the technician demonstrated giving Hammett this formulation, which is fish-flavored, via syringe, and indeed it was easy, thank goodness. Plus that eliminated one day out of the five.

On our way home in a cab, what looked like the truck for a gardening service started to turn in front of us. The cab driver yelled, “Watch out!” at the female driver and then added, “Baby,” followed by a rakish chuckle for my benefit, as who could not fail to enjoy his sexist put-down?

In front of my house, I said, “I normally like to tip generously,” to which he replied, “Thanks!”, which was premature, as I had not gotten to my second and concluding clause, which was an explanation of why he wasn’t going to receive any tip whatsoever.

Thank goodness the meter stopped right at six dollars, because I’m not sure even I would have the nerve to request change in coins from a cabbie in order to avoid tipping.

In the entrance to the spay/neuter clinic at the SPCA, there are tiles inscribed to various departed animals by their owners. This one caused me to enter the clinic in tears:


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hammett Is Bleeding

I thought I was safely ensconced in my bathtub. I guess I forgot to put on my safety belt or raise the bulletproof shield.

Yesterday when I got home from work, I noticed there was a reddish streak on the yellow comforter cover, obviously produced by Hammett, obviously blood. It didn’t smell like anything at all. I hoped it was a fluke. It was not.

This morning (and I apologize; I thought we were going to be able to drop the subject of cat poop for 15 or 20 years) I saw in the litter box some lovely firm turds and a pile or two of diarrhea. Next to the box was a drop of pure red blood. I got my measuring stick so I’d be able to tell the vet this afternoon exactly how big it was, instead of saying, “Really big!”

It was a half-inch in diameter, which does seem like a lot of blood for a small cat, and maybe explains why he hasn’t been quite as frisky in regard to chasing things as I had assumed he would be; I hope it doesn’t explain his bouts of seemingly random meowing. I hope those aren’t cries of pain.

While I’m hoping, I hope he isn’t seriously ill, and I hope I don’t have to spend $1600 on an endoscopy, and I hope the SPCA doesn’t say, “If he’s ill enough at six months old to need an endoscopy, bring him back and we’ll euthanize him,” and I hope I don’t have to take him back to the SPCA in his little box and leave him there for good.

I called Mission Pet Hospital and asked if Dr. Press by any chance had a cancellation this morning. James asked excitedly, “Did you get a new kitty?” He is the one who sent me a condolence card for Thelonious such a short time ago.

I told him about the blood and he said, “Uh-oh.” Now, maybe he meant, “Uh-oh, I’m sorry things aren’t quite right,” rather than, “Uh-oh, I’m sorry your new cat is going to die right after your other cat died,” but I would have felt better if he’d said, “Oh, really?” and sounded a little bored.

They are booked solid this morning, but I have an appointment with Dr. Gordon this afternoon—an introduction to a non-SPCA vet that the SPCA funds—so we’ll just have to wait until then.

Maybe it’s not serious and I’m freaking out because it’s so soon after Thelonious’s fatal illness, though I also called my father and he said they’d never experienced that with any of their cats.

Needless to say, I have been in tears since seeing the drop of blood, and I also have felt extremely angry at moments: How dare those bastards at the SPCA stick me with a dying cat? Don’t they know I’m at my emotional limit for this season?

I even felt enraged for just a second or two at Hammett for walking on Thelonious’s carrier box, which is the same cardboard box in which she was brought home from the SPCA long ago and which is my last reliable source of black hairs that were hers. I’m afraid Hammy will fall into it and contaminate the pool of hairs.

I have plenty of black hairs around, but one can no longer say whether a given hair is hers or his. Without a doubt, the ones in that box are hers and so no other black cat must access that space until I have gotten around to picking the hairs off the folded yellow towel and taping them to a note card.

It’s odd that two and a half weeks after Thelonious made a bloodstain in the hallway, Hammett bled not eight feet away, and Hammett has lately been sitting in the exact spot that Thelonious developed a fondness for in the last couple of months of her life, under the computer table.

I hope he is not going to follow her into the great beyond right away, but beyond taking him to the vet and doing what the vet says, there is nothing I can do.

If Hammett needs any medical treatment in his first 30 days after adoption, the SPCA will do that for free. I just spoke to them and they said he likely will need treatment, so I have an appointment there for tomorrow morning, as well as the appointment this afternoon at Mission Pet Hospital.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Safely Ensconced in My Bathtub

I was going to have a patch test this week to determine what I’m allergic to that causes itching, though, as mentioned, it seemed a bit pointless—since even stuff that has just three ingredients in it and that is billed as being hypoallergenic makes me itch, there probably is no product that lacks the offending substance or substances.

This problem began when a hair product changed formula years ago. It occurred to me that it might be exacerbated by walking around for four days with 120 kinds of chemicals taped to my back: “Here, we’ll saturate one quarter of your skin with chemicals so we can find out what kind of chemical-laden product you may be able to purchase.”

Then I came upon inspiration in Emily Raboteau’s very fine novel The Professor’s Daughter, in which the main character mentions her boyfriend dressing his hair with olive oil. If this fictional character can put olive oil in his hair, so can I, and so have I been, just about two drops, and it’s working great—it quells the frizz and imparts a zesty salad-like smell. Makes one feel healthy without having to eat a salad.

I don’t think it’s making my pillowcase greasy, either. I haven’t actually looked, but it is my feeling, if not my actual observation, that it’s not doing this.

As my ex-brother-in-law once said, “I know I’m safer on an airplane than I am in my own bathtub, but I feel safer in my bathtub.”

Over the weekend, I felt so grief-stricken about Thelonious I began to think I might never get over losing her, but I feel much better at the moment. I can look at a picture and say, “That’s my nice girl cat; she’s dead now,” without it seeming incomprehensible and unbearable.

I wish I’d paid more careful attention to her every day of her life. I lived with her for eight years in my previous apartment and eight years in my current apartment, and I can barely remember the kinds of things she did in the first apartment, which seems like a parenting failure.

I remember she used to sit behind me on the chair as I practiced the trumpet. But where did she sleep? What was she doing when she wasn’t sitting behind me on the chair? What vet did she see? How did she get there, as that was when I wouldn’t have had money for a cab? I can’t remember. I will have to check my old money books for clues.

It’s hard, in fact, to remember her exactly as she was in any moment whatsoever, but it occurred to me that I also can’t remember my mother exactly as she was in any moment whatsoever. So remembering someone must not require a photographic memory, thank goodness, and of course I do have nice photos as such.

An image of my father passing by the window in his broad-brimmed hat the last time I visited my parents keeps popping into my mind. It’s a pleasing image: Dad about his garden-related business. I couldn’t tell you the exact features of the hat or the details of the shirt my father was wearing, but I can still remember him passing by the window and enjoy the satisfactoriness of that moment.

On Monday I left Hammett the new black cat in the bathroom when I went to work, as that was his first full day alone. He had the run of the apartment all day Tuesday, so I was psychologically prepared to find the place a shambles when I returned, but he had behaved himself perfectly. He was under the bedcovers when I came in.

He has obviously been showered with love all his young life. There is no part of him he minds having touched, and he loves to be picked up and cuddled. It took Thelonious many years to learn to tolerate being picked up, and I’m not sure she ever came to love it, though she developed a habit of trying to clamber up toward my right shoulder when I picked her up. Maybe she didn’t trust being held and wanted to be on top of something, though I prefer to think she wanted to be closer to my face, from whence issued the compliments and kisses.

When I was reading yesterday in what is now obviously Hammett’s chair—I feel slightly guilty sitting in it—he sank into the crack between me and the back of the chair and lay there on his back languidly waving his front paws in the air as I got the week’s dose of bad news from Newsweek.

The only thing that could make me feel better about the world situation is a New York Times headline about Laura divorcing George: “I have come to loathe the sight of that Satan-spawned imbecile; nor can I answer for my actions if I hear him mispronounce ‘nuclear’ even one more time.”

Barbara Boxer said on KQED the other night how Bush claimed terrorists hate us because of our freedom and our way of life, and then he removed our freedom and our way of life.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hammett Encounters a Talking Chair

Thelonious pursuing one of her favorite hobbies, back when she was alive.

Friday night I saw my acupuncturist for the first time in six weeks, which was lovely. There’s been less raving lately about how fabulous he is because he was away in Mexico for five weeks of surfing on what was actually one of his twice-annual five-week surfing trips to Mexico—talk about self-care, particularly given that he has his own business. If I had my own business, I’d probably never go on vacation at all, let alone for 10 weeks a year. He’s extremely serene.

When I got home, I took another crack at fixing the wobbly lamp, with some further hardware I’d obtained, and at least for now it’s as solid as one could want. My mother’s lamp-wiring advice: “Keep fiddling with it until it’s the way you want it.”

I lapsed into self-pity later in the evening and vowed never to get another cat. No, I would just live without this, that and the other, alone in my little apartment, mourning my departed cat, waiting for my remaining time in this vale of tears to pass. It’s only going to be 40 years or so at the absolute most; I can make it.

But when I woke up Saturday, I thought, forget that: I’m going to have all that stuff. What I want is not excessive. There is no reason to refuse myself these things.

I took some kitchen items to the thrift store and then rode my bike to the very pleasant pet store at Church and Cesar Chavez, Noe Valley Pet Company, where I bought some cat toys for the future cat.

Then I went to Best Buy at Harrison and 14th (kind of a horrible place) and bought a Sony radio so I can hear KQED in the living room and the kitchen. Yes, I was going wild.

After that, I went home and had a nice chat on the phone with Mr. Bull about cat adoption. She said if I wanted to go to the SPCA the next day, Sunday, to look at cats, she would go with me. It was only 3:30 or so when we got off the phone, so I decided to stroll over to the SPCA and look at cats right away.

I brought my lease just in case and happened upon a cage full of black kittens, including one little short-haired boy cat, who is right now locked in my bathroom, since it’s my first full day away from him and he is at that inquisitive age, six months. I think his name will be Hammett (after Kirk, not Dashiell), which lends itself to the nicknames Ham and Hammy.

He’s very friendly and affable, and so far he is manifesting perfect cat behavior: he goes in the litter box, hasn’t clawed anything, doesn’t bite or scratch my fingers when I pet him. I warned Tom not to teach him to regard fingers as toys, because I think he’s going to be big.

Saturday night he was up much of the night, therefore so was I. I had a good cry over Thelonious, holding the cedar box with her ashes in it, and I feared it was just the way it was going to be with Hammett until he was older and that I’d have to confine him in another room (i.e., the bathroom) at bedtime, but last night when I went to bed, he crawled under the covers with me for a bit—it was unexpectedly soothing to have that warm little body there, an emissary from Black Cat Land come to console me for the loss of the other black cat—and then he went to sleep on the comfy chair.

He only got up once in the night that I noticed, to see (again) what those papers piled on top of the shredder are.

This morning he sat down on the answering machine and then got up startled, no doubt thinking, “Odd, a talking chair.”

Saturday night I watched about ten minutes of the original Manchurian Candidate with Tom and then went home to be with Hammett.

Yesterday I went to Rainbow for groceries and did my cooking for the week. Besides the usual grains and beans, I tried a recipe that I hoped would approximate Whole Foods’ vegan brownies, and one that I hoped would approximate Whole Foods' vegan chocolate frosting.

The former came out surprisingly well but took absolutely forever and dirtied way too many things, including the food processor. I had to wash dishes for 45 minutes afterwards. Maybe I’ll just continue to pay Whole Foods the $1.89.

The latter didn’t come out at all. The recipe called for two tablespoons of brown rice syrup, but after four or five, it still tasted awful, so then I tossed in some honey—that’ll sweeten this stuff up, by gum—and then I had to put the whole batch in the compost bin. Tom tasted it before I threw it out and politely said, “It wasn’t what I was expecting.”

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Lovely Permanent Monument

It was hard when Monday night rolled around again earlier this week (October 9): One week ago at this time I found Thelonious moribund in the doorway. One week ago at this time we left for the vet’s office. One week ago at this time, she died.

It has helped so much to put my attention on my actual feelings, rather than my thoughts about the situation, though it is inevitable there will be some thinking, which is probably a good thing, as it causes the feelings to well up.

But at a certain point, I remind myself to drop the story and feel the feelings, and I tune into physical sensations and take a breath, and it is rather miraculous how quickly the emotion dissipates. It’s not being pushed away, just directly sensed rather than thought about.

Though I wasn’t sure I quite believed it, I kept telling myself that while I will always love Thelonious and always miss her, I will in time get used to her absence. There were so many tears the first several days after she was gone, I thought I’d be crying every day for the rest of my life, and I gave myself absolute permission to do that. Who would it hurt, as long as I could function otherwise?

But after a week and a half, I feel better and there is less crying. I am now positive that what I’ve been telling myself is true: I will absolutely live on and be happy, and I will (probably) get used to her not being here.

After several days, there were even times I looked at a photo of her and felt joy rather than sorrow.

It’s like with my grandmother (and my aunt, and my great-aunt): I miss my grandmother and I love her—I talk to her; she answers—and I can still carry on despite her absence. There’s still a relationship, just a different kind.

A couple of days ago, I got a call I wasn’t expecting for another week or two: a call from S. F. Veterinary Specialists saying Thelonious’s ashes were ready to pick up.

Yesterday after work I rode my bike over to get what turned out to be a lovely little cedar box with a brass lock on the front, with two keys provided. A card on top had Thelonious’s name on it and the date of her death. It also said, “Cremation Service Provided for The Atkins Family,” half of which was inside the box, if we’re considering my own immediate Atkins family, which was just me and her.

The box and card were wrapped in plastic to keep them together and keep everything clean and protected. The whole thing was tremendously thoughtful. I realized that the person who handed it to me was someone I had talked to on the phone a few times who had been very kind and was again on this occasion.

There was another woman there picking up medication for her pet. When I was outside unlocking my bike, she came out and it looked like she was crying as she said to me, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Hearing about my cat’s ashes must have reminded her of a beloved departed cat of her own. I was glad she spoke to me. That was also very sweet.

As always, I had the feeling of loving spirits all around. I live in a sea of kindly entities, embodied and not.

In the end, I got five “real” cards and two e-cards, which I printed out, and many emails and phone calls and verbal expressions of sympathy. My dear friend Elea in Washington emailed every couple of days for the first week just to ask, “How are you doing?” I have been magnificently cared for (which could not have happened if I hadn’t told people what was going on).

After my aunt died, while my uncle probably received an outpouring of sympathy, of course I didn’t receive such expressions, but in fact, it was a major loss. It was an untimely, horrible, prolonged death, and I had loved her very much, so I called up my mother and asked her to send me a condolence card.

She sent a lovely handwritten card that is one of my (many) highly valued sentimental objects. Yesterday I asked her if she could send one for Thelonious, too.

She asked if I wanted her to send the remainder of my grandmother’s ashes.

“I don’t know; how much are we talking about?”

“Two pounds?”

“Two pounds?! I don’t think so. I think the token amount I have will suffice.”

“Perhaps I should scatter them somewhere.”

My grandmother really enjoyed driving around in the Cadillac a friend gave her after becoming too infirm to drive it, so I suggested maybe she should scatter her mother’s ashes over the nearest Cadillac, and then she could write a message in the dust with her finger: “I love my mother.”

My mother noted that if the ashes were mixed with cement first, it would be a lovely permanent monument.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Several Days Somehow Endured Without World’s Best Cat

I assumed that I would wake up consumed with terror in the middle of the night after Thelonious was gone, but it hasn’t happened. The night she was euthanized, I cried until about 2:30 a.m. and then I went to bed, and once or twice it felt like fear was arising, but it passed immediately upon being welcomed, and it hasn’t come up since.

I also thought I would have vivid dreams about Thelonious and wake up sobbing, but I’ve only dreamed about her once, a day or two ago. I dreamed she trundled into the bathroom carrying my Alice in Chains ticket in her mouth, and I didn’t feel upset after I woke up, at least not by the dream.

I knew from my online research that I might have moments where I seemed to see her, and that has happened a million times, out of the corner of my eye.

I have to remind myself over and over that she is dead.

While there are definitely tears on a regular basis and miserable moments of, "My kitty is gone!", I am also reminding myself over and over that I did the right thing and that it was the kindly cat mother act to let her go, and that the reason I am suffering is that she no longer is, and that is the way it should be.

I am also trying to point my brain less at "Why did my cat have to die?" and more at "How wonderful that this lovely creature was here for sixteen and a half years and gave me so much pleasure!"

All the good wishes and kindness around me have helped so much, plus telling myself every now and then, "Take a breath" and then doing it.

I have many beautiful photos of her, plus I unearthed a stack of "baby" pictures, one of which shows an adorably pudgy cat looking sternly at the camerawoman. Her pudgy period was brief and was long ago.

Over this past week, I have slowly let some of her things go, or have put them away. I meant to leave her diarrhea-spotted litter box as a permanent shrine, but abandoned that plan after a couple of days, though the clean litter box is still in my closet. It was sad to wash it for the last time. It gave me joy to care for her, to clean her litter box and launder the pillowcase for her nest, to give her fresh food and water every day.

I left her water and food bowls in place until yesterday, with water and food in them. Her toys are still scattered all over the living room floor. I recycled her “house,” a cardboard carton that once had ten reams of paper in it, as probably the new cat(s) should have one thing that didn’t belong to Thelonious, or maybe he/she will have all new things, as my friend Trudy advised on the phone.

On Saturday, the first Saturday Thelonious was gone, I got up early and rode my bike to Marina Green to volunteer with the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team at Fleet Week. A couple of fire engines came and parked right next to our booth, and a lot of little kids had their pictures taken in the cabs.

When the fire truck rolled up, I waved and the firefighters waved back. I should have done this NERT thing long ago: Now I can walk up to any San Francisco firefighter—you may have noticed they’re always attractive—and say, “I’m a NERT,” and he’ll say, “Hello! I’m so-and-so,” and shake my hand. At least, that’s what happened the first time I tried it.

The night after Thelonious died, my bedside lamp also died. My living room is the same thing as my bedroom, thus a significant portion of my lighting was gone, which made things that much stranger.

As I was going out to throw the lamp away, I ran into Tom, who mentioned that the lamp could be “fixed,” which would never have occurred to me. My mother said the very same thing, so I went and got parts, and I did indeed fix it!

The top is now a bit loose and I see I should have used a washer between the nut and the inside of the lamp, but derned if I’m going to take it all apart again. If I can live with the lamp not having a shade for 15 or 20 years, I can certainly live with the switch being a little floppy. Once I get the shade, I’ll look into tightening up the fixture.

In the evening, Tom and I watched The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which was excellent.

On Sunday I did my cooking for the week, and in the late afternoon I went to the reunion of an AA meeting I used to go to 24 years ago. They had managed to collect 102 people by word of mouth, including the two I most wanted to see, and it was really a fabulous event.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Earthly End of Thelonious

Here’s what happened to Thelonious. On Sunday, October 1, she seemed quite well and was playing with the cords for the blinds and wanted to come under the covers with me as I slept in until 1 p.m. or so. She was ascending to the cat nest without any problems and purring every time I petted her.

She seemed so well that I was thinking how I would probably need to hire someone to come and give her her medication if I went away overnight for Thanksgiving, eight weeks in the future.

At the same time, she had been eating very little for several days, but I had seen that before, and kept hoping the next day would be better.

When I came home from work on Monday, October 2, however, she was lying in the doorway to the living room, seeming quite listless, and she didn’t get up when I came in.

Sorry for another gross detail or two, but if you’ve followed the story to this point, you have proven your strong constitution. I saw that she had eaten nothing whatsoever that day, yet there was a massive puddle of black diarrhea on the bathroom floor.

It’s rather touching that, as lousy as she must have been feeling, she never once said, “Heck, I’ll just go on the living room floor.”

I called my mother and said it seemed like it might be time to call the euthanasia doctor, but I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting for someone to come over and kill my cat.

My mother wisely said, “Then maybe that’s too hard. Maybe you should just take her to the vet.”

I went online and saw that the black diarrhea probably indicated blood in her upper intestines, which made it clear it was time, but in case there was any doubt, soon she barfed up a terrible pile of bloody tissue of some sort. A red stain remains in my vestibule.

All of a sudden, she looked terribly small and ill. I bundled her up in a soft pillowcase—she moaned once in pain when I picked her up—and got in a cab with her and Tom, and we went to San Francisco Veterinary Specialists, which is open 24 hours a day.

I had told her I would be with her at the end, and I was. The moment of death itself was not particularly traumatic for me, and I hope it wasn’t for her, either. The three months prior were terrible, and the week following was even more terrible.

One thing that has made it much easier is the tremendous outpouring of kindness and support from my friends and family. It has been a dreadful time, but I never once felt alone.

After Monday night, I received emailed condolences and cards and phone calls. My Al-Anon group gave me a card. As we left Monday to take Thelonious to the vet, I called Lisa C. to let her and David know, and when I got home, there was the nicest message from Lisa on the machine, and the next day there was an e-card of condolence from Lisa’s mother.

I got a note from my father that I have read over and over; it says, in part: “Having a cat euthanized is always heartbreaking, but it's a kindness we owe a creature that is dependent on us, however difficult the loss may be.”

My parents have listened to me carrying on for months (well, for 44 years, but in particular, for the past three months) and have graciously received multiple phone calls on some days.

I know it’s just the family sense of humor when my father answers and I hear my mother yelling in the background, “Is that Linda again? Didn’t we just talk to her?”

(David C. once announced to Lisa, “It’s Linda, graciously calling us again.” That also made me laugh.)

I went to work the next day, Tuesday, because it was a week at work when it would be very poor form to be out, but after listening to me sob in my cube for a few minutes, my coworkers told me to go home, and said they would cover for me.

I did go home and then I took about 150 cans of cat food to the SPCA. The woman there said, “It’s like Christmas!”

Then I went to return some prescription food and some medication to Thelonious’s regular vet—I had just picked up a new bottle of Prednisone on my way home Monday! —and ran into Dr. Press, who listened to the tale of her final night and gave me a hug.

I returned to work on Wednesday and it was a hellish week at work; it would have been even if my cat hadn’t died at the beginning of it, which seems like particularly diabolical timing, but maybe it was good to have something else to think about part of the time.

The bloodstain is still in the entryway. It smells bad if you put your nose close enough, and that is good: Something awful happened thereit had better smell bad.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006