Friday, March 13, 2009

Pocket Review of Death

Two big things have happened to me in the last two months. Well, three, actually (things, not months).

1. I had to put my kitty, Oscar, whom I had for 17 of his 18 years, to sleep (Yes, I am one of those single women who loves cats. Deal with it. I have never owned more than two at a time, therefore, I still have hope of marrying). It was absolutely the right time, and absolutely heartbreaking. Yes, 17 years is a long life, but he was with me through three cities, 13 moves (as noted in a previous review, I'm a freakin' gypsy), two cars (the watershed moment of trading Hannah Honda in for Loretta the Jetta) , and three broken relationships, not to mention all the sub- relationships and friendships that fell away over the years. This little guy was my rock, and I miss the crap out of him.

2. I have started dating a significantly younger man which is a WHOLE other review; but if it works out, the chances of me not having to suffer through his death are really strong, so that's good.

3. A friend that was not terribly close, but whom I deeply admired, died of cancer a week ago.

My response to death is not so much, "Oh, shit! I don't wanna die!!!," though I don't. It's more, "Oh shit! Who else that I love is going to die?" I experienced this panic and irrational fear with my mom (I didn't want to go away to college, in case something happened to her - I thought I could prevent it) right after my dad died, and I experienced it with Oscar after I had to put my kitty, Felix, to sleep. This means that I have spent the last five years dreading the day that Oscar's health would fail, and it has been difficult. I'm like Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, constantly leaning over the crib in the night to see if the baby's still breathing. However, I now realize that my mom needs to be put to sleep, and I'm learning more and more everyday that trying to control the uncontrollable is a FUTILE pursuit, energy-waster, and time-killer. Aforementioned younger man is Mr. Right Now, and I am assuming I need to learn from that.

Oscar came into my life in 1992. I had been attending a local community college in Birmingham, following my father's untimely death, when I started dating a crush from high school. The crush turned to love, the love led to an engagement, and I transferred to the University of Alabama to be with this person, who (unbeknownst to me) was an abusive alcoholic. In the salad months before I would come home everyday to find him drunk in his bathrobe in a sea of Dorito crumbs watching "Green Acres" from our bed, we decided to adopt a dog at the local humane society.

I believe in pound animals and saving their lives, but I hate seeing them all in their little pet prisons, desperate to be chosen. As we walked the gauntlet of cages (cats on the left, dogs on the right), Abusive Alcoholic went right for a golden retriever, and I went right for a black and white domestic short-haired feline. He had markings like a Holstein, and immediately flopped over on his back, and offered me his chin to scratch. From that moment, we were in love, Oscar and me. The workers at the shelter had named him "Charlie", and told me that he was way past his expiration date, but they couldn't bring themselves to put him down, since he was so sweet. We signed the papers, changed his name, and took him home.

The first two weeks were rough. Oscar had a bit of difficulty adjusting to our two bedroom apartment. On his second night with us, I was awakened by his bobcat-like wailing at four in the morning, and ran into the living room naked, to find him climbing the drapes that concealed the sliding glass doors to the balcony. Extricating him from the drapes proved tricky, as I was semi-conscious and trying to point his fully extended claws away from my fully exposed flesh, and he was in a state of high dudgeon. It appeared that he was intent on escape, and willing to climb the castle walls to do so. I couldn't understand this ("You're getting three squares a day, buddy! What's the prob?"), and tried to put him at ease.

However, I unwittingly contributed to his anxiety the very next day, by walking towards him and trying to pick him up while wearing some slippers that were called "mouseshoes" as they were made to look like giant, stuffed gray mice (my feet went where the mouths would be). I couldn't understand his terror, as I chased him the length of the apartment with these ridiculous rats on my feet, and stomped down the hall saying, "Come here, sweetie! I just want to LOVE YOU!" Eventually, I found him hanging upside down from the box spring of our bed, Sylvester-style. Ultimately, he came to understand that I had saved his life (from euthenasia, not giant mice) and was utterly devoted to me from that point forward.

About a year after I got Oscar, Felix found me. He just showed up out of nowhere at my mother's house one day, and blended in for more than a week. My mother, you see, truly IS a crazy cat lady, and has five to nine cats at all times. Felix was a cute little solid black kitty (well, save a small finger-print sized white spot in his left armpit. Supposedly, it is still rare to find a truly solid black cat, because many of them were burned as witches back in the day), and I drove him to my college pad following a weekend trip home. He was an angel, and slept all the way, curled up in the passenger seat.

It became immediately clear, however, that Felix suffered from classic second child syndrome. He was totally spoiled and into EVERYTHING. Oscar would calmly sit by the window and sound the alarm, meowing loudly and insistently when Felix would do things like attack the screen in my garage apartment, and therefore, fall one story out the window to the ground below. Though it took Oscar a few years to truly love and accept Felix, he always understood his duty as Number One Dog Kitty, and never failed to say, "Timmy's in the well! Timmy's in the well!" whenever Felix needed rescuing.

Oscar lived through me giving him the wrong amount of pet tranquilizers on my drive out to Los Angeles from Alabama (so, he had the equivalent of what appears to have been a four day acid trip), Feline diabetes, the reversal of same diabetes, and eating a needle and thread from a knitting project I was working on. He didn't live through what now seems to have been intestinal cancer, (but was diagnosed as kitty inflammatory bowel syndrome).

I knew a bit about what to expect, since Felix also had diabetes, and had to be put to sleep about four years ago, as we could never get his insulin regulated. But, making the choice to take the life of someone you love is so very painful. People say, "They're like your children," but that's not so. They ARE your children. You make an agreement, just as you would with a human child, and that is that you will give them the best quality of life, possible, and if necessary, be with them when that life ends. I held Felix when he was put to sleep and I did the same with Oscar. Both times, I felt like a murderer. Oscar's quality of life had radically diminished, but still... Grief is such a sneaky thing. You feel it brush up against you in the water, but you don't know it's a jellyfish until your leg's on fire. And, for weeks afterward, you're finding new spots where the tentacles stuck to you. I wonder if my young man will hold me when I'm euthenized...

A close friend of mine lost a close friend of hers to cancer about a month ago. Then, my acquaintance, Bev, passed away last week after a second bout with cancer. She was a lovely lady - inside and out. In every memory I have of her, she is smiling.

Everything feels a bit sad at the moment. I'm not dead. I'm not terminally ill. I am loved and friended and surviving. But, these are evaluators, these three things. And, at the moment, I am spending lots of time on my off days clad in sweats - the official ensemble of grief, wearing Violette (my surviving kitty) like a stole around my neck, and wasting lots of time looking at the same old photos. To sum up, death is something that I would definitely not have sex with (because, among other things, I am not Alice Cooper.)