upon the eve of 33 / some random Hoga-joys for thee

Do you follow my Twitter feed? (my latest tweets are always up there ^^^ ). I say all this really witty stuff. Well that and I regurgitate the things I love that come across from those I follow. So usually I leave my blog for talky crap about my life, and my Tweets for …  tweety stuff.  But today there was an abundance of awesomeness and I need to share.  Like:

1. Bill Withers, live, performing “Ain’t No Sunshine”:

This song is simply wonderful, and seeing a live performance (and that band! That drummer!) well… Jeebus. Awesome.  I watched it twice and what do you know, the second time it came up awesome again.  Apparently we have a documentary currently playing on this amazing songwriter and performer. And I’m going to see this film, absolutement, yes, even if that means having to hear “Lean on Me” for the one millionth time.

2. Growing up, my family loved watching movies together – hailing from back when we’d get a few VHS tapes once a week and rent a massive, heavy VCR in a handled molded plastic case to play them on our dinky television. And we loved playing “that guy”.  Like we saw John McGinley in about a dozen movies as a bad guy or weaselly henchman (this is before he made mainstream fame in the television program “Scrubs”) but we didn’t know his name so we called him “Butthole Face” (or okay, my mom and brother did, because of his thin lips I think).  Anyway, I was surprised at some of the faces in this linked article, but reading the criteria made so much sense.  And I’ve always had an affinity for “that guy” (or gal) – the actor who may not get the awards or gripping character writing but gets the work.

3. Today Kate Harding published a great article addressing our First Lady in response to the latter’s childhood obesity campaign.  Most things Kate writes are pretty great, and on-point, and smart, and compassionate, and kick-ass, and relevant.  Her writings are kind of like bacon – no wait, gilded bacon! – but instead of eating it you’re reading it and realizing she’s awesome and you wish you were that smart about stuff that matters but you’re glad someone is.

And in the non-internet and kind-of-awesome-but-sob! vein: today I got a card from the veterinarian who saw us through Blackie’s last bit of life on this planet.  On the front of the card, pawprints and everything, and: “Your life was a blessing, your memory a gift of joy… you are loved beyond words and missed behond measure.  Our Sympathy.” On the inside:

To The Hogaboom Family,

I just wanted to take a minute to say I am very sorry for your loss of Blackie.  With a diagnosis of lung cancer we can know that there was not more we could have done, and that her suffering is over.  One of the hardest choices we have to make in our pet’s life comes at the end, and it never seems easy to know when it’s okay to say good-bye.  I know that you made the right choice for Blackie.  Best Regards, E.

Yeah. So… there’s that.  One awesome vet, let me tell you.  And vets are just about the kindest people on earth, because they send you a card, and they are there with you at the end.  Life should be like this.

Oh, and tomorrow’s my birfday. 33.  I’m loving this number.

She went her unremembering way / She went and left in me / The pang of all the partings gone / And partings yet to be.

At 4:45 I’m sitting in the vet’s lobby with my cat in carrier. She isn’t happy to be there. Neither am I. I’m just desensitized, really. I’ve spent the last few days off and on crying and right now I don’t want to cry in this public place, with someone’s irritating dog barking somewhere. Vet offices never smell very nice, either. And I hate that my cat is here, because she doesn’t like places like this. I wish she could die at home.

My kids are reading and playing with the coffee-table type books and Nels goes up to the receptionist and asks for a cardboard box, which he proceeds to affix to the back of his handmade clockface (complete with real “hands” secured by a brad) he’d brought with him. Sometimes my kids are so much help in difficult times: today, not so much one way or another. I stare at the wall in complete disinterest of anything but getting through the next few minutes. I have a job to do.

I’d asked for Dr. Keller, the same vet who ran the tests on my cat last Friday, the woman who made the difficult phone call on Sunday and who has been such a help to talk to the last few days. After a few minutes she approaches me and says something quietly and we go to the exam room. She tells me it’s best to put a catheter in the cat, as her veins won’t be easy to find – Blackie is very thin and a bit dehydrated. When the doctor brings the cat back, my son is with us. Nels keeps talking – he is unsure if Blackie is going to die, or be killed, or go to sleep (this kind of confusion is why I don’t use the “go to sleep” euphemism). He is attentive and a bit excited and apprehensive. I’m usually very keen to observe my kids and their reactions to life’s major events, but I can’t summon much interest. I know I am not there for the kids right now.  That’s just how it is.

I hold my cat and the doctor injects her and after a moment her head falls. And she is still so very, very soft and warm and it doesn’t set in that she’s gone even though I know it’s true. And I hold her and cry silently but violently, with my head against her for a while. I don’t really hear what my son is saying. And after a while I stand up and Dr. Keller tells me she’s glad I brought her in and she says a few more things. She has been a great doctor throughout this and she now has my complete loyalty. I wrap my Blackie in a blanket and walk into the waiting room and tonelessly direct my children to carry this and that and someone opens the door for me and I recognize that tender compassion from the small group in the room who know that something terrible has happened for me. I really, really don’t care what they all think.

I come home and I fold my dear girl into the same little position she always rested in – her head tucked on her paws, tidy in a little ball so small, so fragile. I wrap her in a yard of brilliant blue silk and tie her up with black velvet ribbon and she is a soft little bundle. The feeling of a body is so unique. It’s so obviously a body. I am between worlds, because she is no longer here, but I can feel her as if she is. I send my daughter to the store to purchase a few catnip mice – one to bury Blackie with, two for our living creatures at home.

Then I mix and knead rolls for tonight’s dinner and remove the pumpernickel bread from the oven and prepare chicken and broccoli and fresh lime bars and do laundry and I’m there with my kids but I know I’m not really doing a good job at it all.

I don’t like people telling me they know how I feel, or how I’m going to feel. Because I know how I feel and only I do, no matter if someone else has gone through something similar that person is not me.

Today, I am numb. I don’t feel things I normally feel. Like my love for my other cats and even though I know I care deeply for them and love my children and husband these feel more like small, remote facts, facts that irritate me in some slight way because I’d like to be alone but that isn’t much of an option.

I know I won’t always feel this way. I will recover quite a bit soon. I will never be the same. I sometimes feel loss chips away at me just a bit, every time.  I wonder if I’m not really a survivor, when it comes down to it.

My mom gives us $100 to help with the expenses and suggests we go out and do “something fun”. And I’ll have fun soon enough but that idea is tasteless and bland on my tongue, even though I am tired of being home and the little spot under the coffee table where she was resting is empty and cold.

My mom’s gift is such a nice gift.  And people write me emails and messages and DMs and I appreciate them, I really do.

I had to do a hard thing today.

Tail Mustache

long post, but not twelve years long

Dad has put up both the bird feeders he got for his birthday (one’s a hummingbird feeder right outside the living room, and the other is a regular wood feeder for robins and such).  So when I bring my cat down she sits on the windowsill and tries to “catch” these birds from inside the house.  The double-paned storm windows that she continually bashes her thick little head into don’t seem to dampen her enthusiasm.  Everyone laughs at her, especially Billy [my brother], who resents how old and fat she makes Puma [Billy’s cat] look in comparison.  I have to admit she isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, that’s for sure.  Although to give her credit she is excellent at catching the flies in the house.  She catches one, releases it, catches, releases, etc. until she can manage to get a claw hooked in the curtains, at which point she decides to “kill” that too.

– letter to my sister Juliet, May 27, 1998

The other day Sophie [age 4] wrote this on the computer: “Sophie Daddy Mama Nels loves Blackie so much.”

– blog entry, November 14, 2006

The last couple weeks I’ve especially enjoyed the companionship of Blackie (we also call her Blackstone), my eldest kitty.  A svelte 7.5 pounds, a tiny little inky-black creature with a white bellypatch, in our new house she comes and finds me while I read or knit and sits either above me on the top of the couch, or just behind me on the floor.  She doesn’t sprawl, but pulls herself into a tiny ball, her paws and tail tucked.  Just thinking about my nearness she begins to purr loudly; it takes others considerable effort to incite that response.  I laugh because her purr is kind of rumbly and junky; it reminds me of when she was younger and would climb on my lap and begin to knead my chest.  The motion was always awkward and snappy and she had a look in her eye like it was not her but her cyborg arms doing the work; she didn’t know how it was happening.

Blackie came to me my junior year of college.  I was having a bad year.  I’d been left by my closest friends, had a bad breakup then a not-so-bad breakup in recent months.  School was hard yet boring; I was a lonely, crummy person and not a good friend to much of anyone.  My roommate J. brought the cat to our apartment one night, then left – J. was never home but stayed with her boyfriend across the city.  The cat hadn’t been especially cared for when she came into our apartment.  She’d been moved from an apartment full of young people to someone’s parents’ house; she came with a rather unfortunate name referencing drug-use since her original owners used to blow pot smoke or whatever in her face (I couldn’t bear to call her by this name but never did name her; the unfortunate and unimaginative “Blackie” was the result of my indecision).  She was a tiny, fearful little thing that hid under my bed and wouldn’t be cajoled out.

It wasn’t my cat and I didn’t give much of a damn about it at first.  I found the creature amusing, and silly, because it was so fearful and unappealing.  She seemed to not have the slightest bit of affection or grace.  She was unique in that most non-feral cats, especially young ones, will quickly seek out food and love and companionship; not so for this one.  She was like a solid, cold, shiny lump of dread and loathing.

I can’t remember how long it took her to begin venturing out from my bed.  But by the time my mother visited me a few weeks later, the cat had somehow attached to me.  I showed my mom a trick; I’d acquired a produce box with holes in it which I would lay on its side.  The creature would inevitably find the box irresistible and creep inside; then I would dangle a feather on a string just outside these holes.  My mom stared, dismayed, at the inky black paw with the abnormally-large gleaming white claws that snaked viciously out of the hole in the box and batted repeatedly and cruelly at the feather.  My mom tried to think of something nice to say and faltered.

But I do admit, the cat became an important companion.  She made me laugh, a lot of the time.  Her litterbox was in my bathroom; she’d wait until I returned home before she’d go in and scratch at her box while I washed my face.  I laughed at this because it seemed so ungainly and contrary to the desire for privacy I thought cats naturally had. I gained comfort in caring for her; I fed her oily tuna mixed with egg and vitamins and cream (my father, hearing about this, called the concoction “Powerball”) and I’d turn off the bathroom humidifier the minute I reasonably could, because I knew it made her uncomfortable.

Soon the cat liked me enough I felt it wasn’t right to leave her alone for the weekends.  I decided it would be best if I took her with me when I went to my parents’.  I did this with J.’s permission; during one such discussion (I felt guilty taking custody of someone else’s cat, even an owner often absent) it became apparent Hey, free cat if you want it.  And so I became Blackie’s “owner”, although that doesn’t fit.  In truth she became my familiar and longtime companion through my life’s many adventures to come.

While I attended the University of Washington in Seattle for the next year and a half she lived in apartments on busy streets with as much self-sufficient aplomb as she’d display in every other scenario I can think of.  I let her outside and she never found trouble; or if she did, she escaped it unscathed.  I used to take her in my backpack when I’d go catch a bus or visit a friend.  I remember talking to a woman as I walked across the UW campus and I mentioned I had my cat in my schoolbag and the woman smiled thinly and stepped back – because I was lying, or weird, or both.  Blackie didn’t soil the backpack (I would come to believe this would be true of any cat, but it’s not, ask me how I know this) and although I don’t think she enjoyed it exactly, she settled in, just as she always had.  She rode in backpacks and on my lap in cars.  One time I went to a houseparty in Montesano late at night, on my way back to Seattle. Trusting her, I let her roam outside while I visited friends; two hours later she came back when called, and we continued on our way. One time she got out of my car on the Ave in Seattle and slunk under parked cars while I tried to be calm and worked at catching her. Eventually two transients stopped and helped me corral her to safety – this was after many, many students and clean-looking “decent” people walked by, pretending not to notice our plight.

The first birthday I shared with this cat was my twenty-first; months after that I began dating Ralph.  My new boyfriend liked my kitty; I remember in July that year (1998) I made him a birthday card with her silhouette.  She became a source of constant joy and, it must be said, mockery, for the rest of our time together; she was my family and later, his.  I moved to Port Townsend upon graduation and lived in a house-share.  The boyfriend became husband and soon after we had babies.  Throughout these most important events in my life, Blackie was constant.  She was never a problem with infants or moving or other pets (although she profoundly disliked the latter). She has been, throughout all situations, tidy and prepossessing, and most loyal to me.

She has never been any trouble at all.

My cat is old now – we estimate fourteen.  She is a bit creaky and arthritic and over the years has shrunk even smaller than her original eight-plus pounds – back when she was a young lass ably catching flies on the windowsill.  Even so, in examining her last Wednesday it seemed to me she’d lost weight that couldn’t be merely age-related; Friday we had in her into the vet in what resulted in a series of tests (a “cat” scan – actually a double x-ray, plus bloodwork, ultrasound).  We discovered that under her winter coat her weight, shockingly, had dropped to 5.25 pounds.  Despite this, and a weakened condition and high respiratory rate, the vet told me they had trouble restraining her for nail clipping.  A little fighter.  When they brought her back to me she again started purring at the sight of me.

Sunday I found out Blackie has cancer with no hope of treatment.  But I didn’t know this when I went home Friday.  We had a steep vet bill and medications and fancy cat food ($27 for 5 lbs.!) and all of that, even though she was so thin and breathing in an alarming way, meant that we’d get on top of this thing and she’d live out a long(er) natural life.  And I was only a tiny bit troubled that Friday night after frowning over the x-ray the doctor said, “We’ll review this and call you tomorrow”, even though I am no stranger to cancer and I know what these kind of things usually mean.  I was in a fantasy of health and healing, things I am good at and have had success with thus far; I pet her and fed her and dosed her.

And then Sunday we got the call and the doctor said all this stuff about “rule outs” and “prognosis” and “severe lung pathology” and just like that, once again, someone is taken from me with my pre-awareness.

Sunday night I was picking up more medicines – including painkillers – and since that evening I’ve been watching her decline with that feeling of agonizing hopelessness, regret, and yes, guilt. Yet she is still constant.  I bring her food and water and I give her love and she still purrs when I touch her.

This little feline has lived with me in nine houses, in three cities, for twelve years.  She’s survived two cats that were adopted after her; she’s learned to love my children (with wariness).  Her health has been stellar up until this final blow; besides vaccines and one deworming pill she’s had no medical issues or ill-health besides a cold now and then.  Last year, as part of her geriatric exam, she was given a full blood workup – the same tests done a few days ago – and showed great health for her age.  And I guess I really just thought we’d  have more time together.

People think dogs alone are faithful of the small domesticated animals, but my kitty has changed my perception on that.  She has never wandered off nor left me; even in a hellish house-share in Port Townsend with a vicious un-neutered male dog (part German Shepherd, part grizzly bear) that relentlessly chased her with the intent of felicide.  Blackie moved out to the back shed and waited – for three weeks.  She wouldn’t come near the horrible dog (quite sensibly) but wouldn’t leave me, either.  Over the years her record at loyalty, toughness, independence and fidelity would remain untarnished.

So we’ve spent about $337 dollars on the cat in the last few days, but it was the last $40 that was the hardest.  This is the amount of money I’ve spent on pain medication and (futile) lungworm medicine.  The fancy bag of expensive cat-food I’d been complaining (boasting) about, she no longer eats.  I find myself resentful of my two young, very healthy cats.  They offer no comfort and seem, in their glowing health, to be taking her life force.  In effect, I currently feel about them like a lot of people feel about cats: disinterest and mild dislike. I know this will pass.

And let me just skip the part where nursing my cat’s ailment of lung cancer is a lot like the way nursing my father was, dying the same way. I won’t go into that.

Last night she left her heater and food and water in the living room and joined me in bed, huddled up on my pillow like she has done so many nights before.  She is uninterested at finding the litter box, so in the morning I found a mess on the pillow, which she’d politely at least kept from me.  I cleaned the mess and brought her food and water and pain medication and my affection.  Soon, after all these years, I will decide it is time to have her euthanized.

Very soon we will be saying goodbye.

Wherein I Make A Mustache From My Felines Tail
Wherein I Make A Mustache From My Feline's Tail

My Blackie Kitty is doing well.  The other night I was at a friend’s house with a few people and I started badmouthing my cat, all telling funny stories about how stupid she is, and my friend Ralph pipes up, “Yeah Kelly, you really hate your cat.  Every time I’m over as soon as she meows you jump up and get her food.  And it’s usually food out of the fridge, like fresh tuna!”

– letter to my sister Juliet, Thursday, July 2, 1998

In her old age and with the cold winter Blackie has let go her snobbishness and her anger (at the world) for allowing a new kitten into our home; in the morning she is minutely hunched just to my left, sleeping silently and leaving a mat of black cat hair such that each morning she sleeps with us I have to clean the bedclothes.

– blog entry, February 2nd, 2008

my advice: do it on a sunny day

I started Moving Day by getting up at 9 AM groggy and sitting on the couch and thanking Ralph after he brought a cup of coffee and thinking I was not in good shape to uproot and migrate.  At 9:05 my husband leaned back in the chair next to mine and lovingly reminded me:  “Nels has a doctor’s appointment at nine thirty.”  Here’s a man who’s about to single-handedly – well, nearly so, we only “hired on” one friend to move today – pick up every single material possession we own and transport it to our new domain and have a life in boxes for a few days.  And he, my husband, is smiling and looking forward to all this.

So my son – who sleeps in until 11 AM some days – had to be dragged out of bed and dressed and taken out in the Icy. Freaking. Cold to the Mercedes (Ralph not only warmed up the car but made a bowl of polenta for The Boy) and driven to the doctor where we’re behind on six shots and Nels elected to have four of them and chose to have them in his legs (which is fortunate, because I think that’s where the nurse insists on doing them). And Nels was so brave and awesome and as I cuddled him just before he was repeatedly stabbed he said, “I’m not going to wiggle or kick, but I’m going to yell.” *  And he did.  And then we were done, and we got lunch together.

Moving went well; Ralph, Sophie, and our friend Michael had everything moved by about 5 PM, which I think is pretty incredible considering you know, we’re an American family of four. In this, our fourth move since having the kids, we have been shrinking in our possessions rather than growing them.  I’m proud of this fact but also puzzled by and a little anxious with each bit of this or that we decide to do without: because what are we, if not our stuff?  Now, dear reader, don’t get the wrong idea: know that we have plenty – plenty – of “stuff” and won’t be able to claim the ascetic satisfaction of knapsack living any time soon.

The cats were the last acquisition tonight (the chickens come tomorrow); the three of them crammed into two carriers – old, skinny and submissively-aggressive Blackstone in her own carrier, and fat, torpid bosom-buddies Harris and Mable crammed humorously in the other.  The cats were very, very alarmed at first upon being delivered to the new home but after a bit of sniffing around and exploring and smelling our Stuff in the house seemed to settle just fine. Mabel now sits at my shoulder as I lean against our bed (our bed!  our bed!  King-sized!  Down comforter!  Smelling of our homemade Fels Naptha laundry soap!  Heaven!) and steal a few minutes on stolen Wi-Fi from the neighborhood.

* He was determined not to jerk or writhe during his shots as he remembered, with a self-inflicted sense of responsibility, that fourteen months ago for his last shots he knocked a nurse across the room when he physically reacted to the needle stabs.

pet roundup

We have an extra here for a few weeks: my mom’s poodle / terrier mix. We are taking care of him while my mom vacations in Mexico and California. This dog is so submissive he thinks everything’s his fault, and he should be beaten accordingly.

Like most dogs, he is at his best when he gets plenty of directed exercise (as in, I walk with him). I am pretty good with this dog. Or rather, I am very good with this dog vis-a-vis walks. My daughter walks him around the block (carrying a satchel with dog poop-scooping capabilities) about four times a day and I try to take him out on a longer adventure as well. Last Saturday we rigged up a basket in my Xtracycle so he could ride along with us through town to get to our destination hike.

Our cats love our current house: specifically, the big upstairs room that is always warm has an impressive bed selection (a king, a twin, and a full). My thirteen year old female black kitty is curled up at Sophie’s still-sleeping feet as I type. She is a tiny, tidy, near-silent creature with sleek black-oil paws hiding huge white claws. She used to be full of malice and now is full of concentrated love for me and wants nothing more than her creaky bones to be pet. She can catch prey (in this house, flies) with deadly accuracy. We call her Blackstone these days.

The male kitty Harris is big and grey and stripey and has short, thick hair. This week he has another mysterious whisker-cut, delivered by my five year old son. This is not cool, although behind Nels’ back I laugh because A. I have a very immature side of me that thinks stuff like this is funny and B. I can’t help but think why does the cat – capable of ferocity that could overcome my five year old – sit calmly (and probably even contentedly) through this operation?

Harris is an insolent creature who attacks Ralph while he’s out gardening. In the morning, Ralph usually puts the cat outside before he leaves for work. Then when I come downstairs the feline is right outside the glass back door – he sees me, rears up on his back legs, and in rapid succession bats his sticklike arms against the glass bam! bam! bam!

I’ve been calling him Douchey McWhiskerson behind his back.

The chickens, well, I guess they are our pets more than any other category. Daily we feed them chicken scraps and pet them and carry them out to their outdoor chicken tractor. Sophie, the more injured hen, resumed laying last Friday, so we are back to two eggs a day. I am still amazed the birds survived their ordeal. I am proud of them, in a chickeny way.

Our five pullets are more excitable than our hens, and during the day when we put them outside they race around like crazy. Sophie is convinced that Swayze and Guinivere are actually cockerels. If this is true, we will be gifting them to another household and keeping our females (Snow White, Striker, and Peeperton).

the pet update, because i know you’re on the edge of your seat.

I’m not sure what was more silly: the decadent sleep-poses I was able to pry my cat into (upside down on my lap, paws in the air) or the fact Ralph, my mother, and my brother would lean forward and watch avidly for each position change.

Our other little cat, Blackie, appears to be sick. She has a cold and seems even smaller and bonier than usual. Well, and more to the point – she’s been out and out asking for affection constantly. We set up a vet appointment for her ASAP. I could stand to see her gain some weight but I don’t mind the lovey-ness.

My mom attempted to get me interested in watching a German Shepherd for a town acquaintance. This is the dog I want in my life, someday. And I would jump at if it weren’t for certain future living arrangements. In our future. Yes, I said future twice. I like to think about the future. I have declined to consider babysitting a dog for fear of succumbing, idiotically, to overwhelming temptation.

Our chicknz are almost four months old. Ralph is a proud papa of fluffy, squawky twins.

He still wants a goat. Nope.

And finally: Sophie is going to do some research and, if she plays her cards right (in fact what should I ask for in exchange? I really have her over the barrell on this one) she will get an anole for the new year.

adventures in sreeping

I’m not in top-form this morning so I don’t have a great analogy for my nighttime experience, where I go to bed with one or maybe two people and wake up next to about three, usually with one or two cats as well and with no idea who surrounds me. Today as it happened I was flanked by Sophie and Nels, my daughter’s leg thrown over mine and my son soft in the blankets, his features delicate and skin as perfect as a cherub (sleeping is the only way he looks so). Last night I know I’d fallen asleep with only my daughter next to me, my son in the next room and my husband wandering the house with a case of insomnia (rare these days for him).

Only part of the musical bed games are due to the fact we are still painting my daughter’s loft bed. I think my parents think I’m some slacker who can’t be bothered to finish the job while my husband works during the day. But the truth is I had a horrible time painting the thing and my husband even said I wasn’t doing it right (he said this in a very circumspect way) and I just kind of bolted from the bedroom and haven’t been back. Our only other usable bed right now is a twin in my sewing room, just a couple arm’s lengths away from my own. I think I’ll miss when the kids are installed in their beds and I can’t see them from my pillow.

In her old age and with the cold winter Blackie has let go her snobbishness and her anger (at the world) for allowing a new kitten into our home; in the morning she is minutely hunched just to my left, sleeping silently and leaving a mat of black cat hair such that each morning she sleeps with us I have to clean the bedclothes. Harris is less prepossessing, stretching over whichever victim is the most asleep and therefore won’t struggle, laying on his back with his legs open and front paws awkwardly poised in the air.*

And here I’ve been thinking about getting a dog. But if we got a California king bed, I think we’d have another 6″ along the bottom of the bed…

* And no, I can’t tell a cat story as well as Mr. Levin.