I am writing this while listening to Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie.For a lot of people, especially veterans and lefties, this song is required listening on Thanksgiving. For that reason, I’m including a video of it at the end of this post. I am determined to finish writing this post by the end of the song, which is some 20 minutes in length. Things were different when songs could be 20 minutes long.
To complicate matters, my cat died this morning.
She was a good cat. Not a great cat, although that’s a mysterious and high bar to reach. She loved unconditionally, sure, but that’s an easy stretch for an animal that relies on you for food. She had a habit of sitting on your head as you slept. Cats are always in search of companionship and warmth, so it’s not really surprising. She would always be rightthere. Breathing your air. Empathizing. She was a good cat.When I came home, she would give me a piece of her mind. Yowl, howl, snark. Not too big a piece, for her mind was not that big. Just enough to let me know I was missed, and that I was being punished, and that her furry presence was being withheld for oh okay, hello, here I am, pet me.
She was incredibly intolerant of human sex.
But she forgave, she purred, mostly when being fed. She had that incredible feline entitlement of being surprised when things didn’t go her way. She was indignant when I posed her for pictures or made her do “the reindeer shuffle” at Christmas. She would also stab me with a single claw in the neck at night, as if administering penance. You didn’t slip the safety on that 9mm. (Oh, excuse the fuck outta me, Cat.)
In the end, she exhibited all the cat behaviors that Cat Whisperers expect. Her usual hacking up hairballs became an every-30-minutes affair that ended in clear, bubbly bile. She showed no interest in food. Or water. She began seeking corners, low places, cool places like the tile of the bathroom floor. This is genetic; she knows she is vulnerable so she seeks small, cool because she doesn’t want or need to think about predators or temperature. She’s preparing.
She climbed into her litterbox a couple of times, to do the expected task, but not robustly. Then she just climbed in to wait. I would not have her die like some rock star, in her own excrement, so I pulled her to the bed with me in a towel which I warmed in the dryer. She relaxed and I pet her in long, sure strokes. “You’re a good cat,” I said. “You’ve done everything just so.”
I held her chin in my hand, to keep her airway open and to feel her breath, now irregular, on my fingers. Her eyes dilated. She did not respond to any stimuli; focused entirely on the white tabby and the path. I understood and it broke my heart, but I continued to drag long, slow, passes across her fur. She’s a good cat. I told her so.
And presently she arched her back, as they must, and she was scared for five or six seconds, and she made a round, repeating howl with her eyes spread so wide. And I held her paw and petted her head and stared into her and told her everything was all right, though I knew it wasn’t . Something switched, and then the shutdown began… the gasps every 30 seconds or so that have nothing to do with life, and finally the single movement of all four feet in unison, as if trotting off on one last hunting dream, or across the rainbow bridge to the next phase.
She was gone.
It took me a while to really get this. I’ve ushered cats before, but in concert with medical professionals. It’s harder to tell when you’re cradling a cat on your chest: is that the animal breathing, or me? If I try to get a pulse, am I successful, or am I pressing hard enough to feel my own pulse? Ultimately I pry her jaws apart and feel her tongue. It’s cold, and she doesn’t react.
In days gone by, Thanksgiving has not meant a lot to me. Arlo Guthrie’s song has been a big part, instituted by my parents because I was born in 1968, perpetuated by me because though the draft is over, the absurdity is not. I also won a prize in a kid contest once, maybe I’ll write about that someday. I used to load in shows on the day after, and go shopping for Black Friday Deals! on my break, but other than some great shirts I have no mercantile awesomeness to share. Kid, your name is on the envelope.
Now there’s this dead cat, dying at 4am and making me love her. I have to store the body on the balcony, where it’s 31 degrees Farenheit. Now, friends, nobody is open to take the remains, and even if I wanted to put her in a trash bag clearly marked DECEASED ANIMAL, it’s a holiday for NY Sanitation. She’s curled into a neat ball, with her feet and tail tip over her nose, because that’s how I shaped her when she was still supple enough to move.
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant, Kid.