Tag Archives: death

When the Windows Darken and the Doors Close


Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61 read so many headlines on June 8 and the days following. Not to be indelicate, but the general sentiment that seemed to be felt by people probably would have been voiced by Anthony as, “What in the ever loving fuck?” No one understood. No one ever understands when a famous person, that pinnacle of the American dream, could possibly kill themselves when by our standards, they had “everything”.
I myself was still in the grips of a pretty fierce manic episode that had begun a few weeks before, spiraled up into a genuine psychotic break, and then settled back into a pretty standard orbit, albeit a rather high one. So when I heard Mr. Bourdain had committed suicide, it registered, but it wasn’t something I wanted to read about, not just yet. As a person who has had three family members and one good friend kill themselves, that was a little too close to home, and his death struck me between the eyes much like Robin Williams’ had, yet another famous death that nearly no one understood until it was revealed he had been suffering from Lewy-Body dementia, an unfortunate brain disorder that can’t be diagnosed until after death.
Then I “crashed”, much in the same way I suspect Anthony did, but I’ll get to that. I had been through a really transformative experience that was still unfolding, yet from the outside perspective of my doctor, and likely my husband, it seemed immediately apparent that I needed some sort of medication, ostensibly to keep my mind from sailing away again as it had a week or so before. So he stuck me on some new-fangled drug that was supposed to be very mild and not hit me like a hammer like so many other antipsychotics can. And so I spent the next couple of weeks really enjoying my life, my husband, my child, and regular everyday activities as I had not in, well, DECADES.
Just like Anthony had, as detailed in the article linked above. He was really looking forward to a trip to Hong Kong where he would be doing some filming. According to those closest to him, they had never seen him so excited, and he was doing things he didn’t usually do, like constantly emailing and texting about publicity and other things that needed to be done towards realizing what he was calling a serious pinnacle of his work. However, after he died, other friends reported that he was in a “dark mood”, which was presumed to be a result of his grueling work and travel schedule.
Reading those words in the article, I understood precisely what had happened to Anthony Bourdain. He “crashed”. He went from whatever speed his incredible mind usually sped along at, to zero, slowly enough for people to notice his “dark mood” but too quickly for anyone to realize what had really happened to him and stop the inevitable trajectory of his path.
Strange things happen when you crash, and crashing happens at different speeds for different people. I wasn’t around Mr. Bourdain, of course, but it seems like his crash took at least a few days, and no one will ever know what triggered his deceleration. It could have been anything, but whatever it did eventually made his mind focus too hard on the negative potentials of what he was doing, most directly his Hong Kong project, until the excitement, adventure, and hope of the project was thrown into doubt by his own mind. I’m willing to bet he struggled mightily with himself for some unknown period of time in an effort to reassure himself he was on the right track, but if your mind has betrayed you, it does not respond to logic. It gets stuck on bad things, like an anchor dragging the bottom of a rocky ocean, until eventually you grind to a halt or go in circles.
My crash happened very quickly, within the space of hours. For example, Sunday afternoon was a wonderful time spent with my husband. Eight hours later, at midnight or so, all those good feelings were gone. *snap* Just like that. It was like being hit in the face with a board. The whole next day, I could palpably feel every good feeling I had recovered since my break slowly sliding away one by one, hour by hour. By the time dinner rolled around and my husband and I went to Jim’s Diner for the first time in the few weeks since my break, I had gone from a wide open spacious world full of possibility to a tiny, dark room with blackened windows, pinpricks for light, and every single door nailed shut save the one that Mr. Bourdain decided to walk through, very likely in a snap judgment.
I had at least two things it doesn’t appear Mr. Bourdain had. One: I wasn’t alone. I’d really rather not entertain what might have happened had I been alone. Which makes me wonder what might have happened with Mr. Bourdain had someone bothered to check and see why he didn’t come down for dinner the previous evening, which was extremely unusual. Anthony Bourdain miss an exquisite French meal? That should have been a major warning bell and while I’m sure those people are already kicking themselves for not checking on him, that may have been a crucial missed opportunity. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for those circling the drain, as it were, so assure others they are fine, for a variety of reasons, and so it may not have mattered if anyone checked to see why he did not come down for dinner.
The other thing I have that maybe Anthony didn’t was an inner guiding “voice”, although I can tell you that no matter how loud that voice may usually be, when the windows darken, the walls close in, and the only exit left is marked DEATH, that voice becomes subaural and the only way it works is if you believe it’s still there. I also had the personal knowledge of knowing four people who found themselves in that tiny, dark room and went ahead and took that exit, and I know what happened to the rest of us when they made that choice. My inner voice said “nuh uh, we’re not doing that”, and after I was done crying into my eggs and hash browns, my husband took me home where I crawled into bed and stayed there, where I knew I’d be safe.
Maybe Anthony did have a voice, but it grew too dim for him to hear anymore, AND he no longer believed it was there. That’s when the normal laws of emotional logic fail to meet the standards of the average happy person and the person in the dark room begins operating by illogical standards and faulty assumptions that seem like perfectly reasonable explanations for whatever conundrum they are faced with. There has been more than one instance in my life where I was absolutely convinced that I had been born cursed, due to some repeating circumstance or inability to wrench myself out of some bit of bad luck that was too reminiscent of past situations. When life shoves you back into the same shitpile you’ve tried so hard to get out of so many times, it can be hard not to think that the Universe wants you to stay there. Maybe Anthony found himself in front of one of those shitpiles and instead of deciding to go around it or try cleaning it up, he just said, “fuck it.” Only an individual knows when they reach the “fuck it” point, and so that will likely just have to remain one of the mysteries that surrounds Anthony’s death.
There’s a third element at play here, something that I believe both Anthony I possessed, and I still do, seeing as how I’m alive, and that’s something I can only call gumption. Gumption says “fuck that noise” when faced with an obstacle, and will help you find any way around it, over it, through it, or will hand you a weapon so you can smash that fucker to bits. Anthony had goddamned buckets of gumption, and I loved watching him use it when I watched his Travel Channel show “No Reservations”.
This is a man who, when presented with a not-so-carefully prepared and barely cooked rectum of some African animal and told it was a delicacy, you could almost see him put that gumption hat on and say “okay, fuck it, I’m eating asshole today”, a decision that would ultimately send him wretchedly sick to the doctor. But that was Anthony: irreverent, bold, adventurous, and always ready for a drink and a cigarette, when he still smoked, along with whatever audacious food would keep him and his eating and travelling companions going until they passed out from food, fun, and booze.
I had a child in the years following “No Reservations” and so I was too busy to keep up with his new shows, but from what I did see, it seemed that he actually did have some reservations now. He’d had a child of his own, quit drinking and smoking, got married, and seemed to be a pretty happy guy. Something was missing from his shows, though. He’d lost some of his gumption, for whatever reason. And I can only assume that he kept losing it over the years, or else he might not have found himself in a French hotel on June 7 / 8, in a dark room with only one even darker exit that has only one lock: your own will not to go through it.
It’s been determined by French authorities that Anthony had no drugs or alcohol in his system, so those very normal indicators of suicide were not present. And sadly, even if there had been something like antidepressants or antipsychotics in his system, it might not have helped. That drug my doctor put me on? I’m pretty sure it CAUSED my crash, and so is my husband, and so we’re going to have to have a long talk about being careful with what drugs we use to treat me, because they’re supposed to prevent finding yourself in that dark room, and now I’ve found myself there twice in the darkest place I’ve ever experienced in my life, and believe me, there have been plenty of times I have found myself in very dark places indeed.
I’ve still got my gumption, though. It may dissolve into puddles of tears as it did this morning, as I sat smoking and drinking my coffee, much like Anthony did so many years ago before he cleaned up his act, so to speak, yearning for the happiness that had been given to me a few weeks ago, and then snatched away so quickly I barely had time to notice it was gone until I went to access it and found that it was missing. It was like someone had brought my long-dead cat YinYang back to life for a few weeks and then murdered him in front of me.
But yes, I’ve still got my gumption, and I still have my Voice, and by the Goddess it doesn’t matter if that room shrinks to the size of a closet and that big black door looms so wide and tall I may fear I’ll fall into it, I will NOT go through that door.
While I had my psychotic break, I went walking with the Goddess to many places, and I even became different people so I could properly experience what she was showing me. At one point I noticed someone was accompanying us as we walked, and I looked over and it was DEATH. I wondered why he was there, and she said it was because we were in his world now, but I was safe. He wasn’t there to take me, he was there to show me around, and also to remind me that he’s always there, a lot like that door to Crazytown I swear I woke up in on May 21.
I’m not afraid of DEATH. I’m afraid of that tiny room with the blackened windows and shrinking walls that only has pinpricks of light that go out one by one if you can’t manage to push the walls back to a manageable distance. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear a lack of choices. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear the after effects it has on those who are left behind who are often left with unanswerable questions unless the person was premeditated enough to leave a cogent suicide note, which is very often not present.
And that’s probably something more important than most other things that have kept me away from that door: knowing what suicide does to other people, even if they do know why, like Robin Williams’ family. So I hope that dark room never shrinks so small that the pinpricks of light that represent the people that love me disappear, like they did for Anthony.
I’m sorry your world shrank, Anthony, a person for whom the world was truly a majestic, giant place full of excitement and opportunity which you always seemed so eager to pursue. There was always one more place to go, one more new noodle to try, one more exotic drink, one more club, one more person to show you something you hadn’t experienced before. I don’t know what happened to you that made those big wide walls start to close in, but something tells me it took a long time, until finally, in that French hotel room, after you had crashed for whatever reason, the walls finally became so close and so dark that all glimmers of hope disappeared, and you walked through that door. I, along with everyone else I imagine, will probably always wonder why you didn’t say “hey, the world doesn’t seem as big and as hopeful as it used to, is something wrong with me?” Maybe it frightened you so much you couldn’t say anything, which is so often the case for people whose walls begin to close. Even I, a person who has walked alongside DEATH my whole life and stared at that door a few times myself, will not understand what happened to you until I myself pass through that door, very hopefully not by my own hands, and get to ask you “hey man, what happened?” It’s the question all of us who are left behind by the suicidal ask ourselves, and it haunts us our whole lives.
Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams. Spalding Gray. Chris Cornell. Layne Staley. Kurt Cobain. Jim Morrison. The list goes on of those shining souls we admire and are inspired by, and are then kicked in the gut when they leave so suddenly. I was listening to Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway”, one of Chris Cornell’s bands, and it occurred to me he may have left a message for us in his lyrics
I’ve put millions of miles under my heels
And still too close to you, I feel
I’ll leave you with some words from one of my favorite movies, “A River Runs Through It”. In it, Tom Skerritt’s character, a Presbyterian minister, is giving a sermon in which it is plain to his remaining son, played by Craig Sheffer, that he is talking about the death of his younger brother, Paul, a charming young man played by Brad Pitt who found himself in trouble with gamblers, with a predictable result. And he says the following:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
Later he narrator ends the movie with this:
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

I’ll listen for you at the rivers, Anthony, along with everyone else we, and I, have lost over the years. And hopefully at the end of a very long, fulfilling life, I will meet you at the appropriate time at that river, and you’ll answer the question we all have, and then we’ll sit at a great table and eat and drink to our heart’s content. I’ll even eat durian fruit with you and maybe you can introduce me to a noodle I actually like. But I’m not eating asshole. Fuck that noise. 🙂

The Darkness Inside


A number of thoughts and emotions went through my head in the minutes and hours following the announcement that Robin Williams had killed himself.  My first thought was that the world was now a lesser place without his wit and depth of personality.  My second thought was to feel sorry for him, as he was obviously in a lot of pain to do something so rash.  My third thought was for his family, because I know all too well what comes in the aftermath of a family member’s suicide.  In the wake of that notion, I began to reflect not only upon the effect that the suicides of my parents have had on me, but also upon my own struggle with depression and the fleeting but frightening feeling that I sometimes get when I realize part of me doesn’t want to be here anymore.  It doesn’t happen often, that feeling, but when it does I try to pay attention, because it’s trying to tell me something.  Whether it’s that my meds need adjusting, or I need more sleep, or my diet needs to be better, or that there’s something in my life that’s stressing me out unduly, it’s a message that something needs changing.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually tried to kill myself.  The closest to a truly suicidal impulse that I ever get is a deep-seated feeling that I just don’t want to be around anymore.  It’s typically accompanied by the very quiet but unignorable sensation that others might be better off without me, because I’m often engaging in destructive behaviors when I’m feeling that low.  The thought that I might be hurting the people around me makes things even worse.  All I can do is retreat and try to cut off as much stimulation and sensory input as I can until the storm inside passes.

It’s difficult for me to talk when I’m feeling like this, which is the strange curse of a depressed or suicidal person.  I find it embarrassing to feel that way, for a variety of personal reasons, and just really don’t care to discuss it most of the time.  There’s a Chinese saying – “talking doesn’t cook the rice”.  Unfortunately that’s very much true for me when things are bad.  It’s not that I haven’t tried it: I have.  It’s just not effective and causes me even more pain.  Which leads me to a truth about being depressed: sometimes it’s enough just to be around someone who’s in pain.  You don’t have to say anything.  We don’t really want to be alone, but we also can’t really tolerate any stimulation.  There’s an internal process that will eventually work its way through the dark place, but it takes time.  Too much time for some people, it seems.

There’s also the societal stigma against any kind of mental illness, however mild it may be.  We’re almost more afraid of mental illness than we are of diseases like AIDS.  It’s considered one of the worst fates, to lose your mental faculties.  It’s seen as a sign of weakness at best, and a sign of danger at its worst.  The news only picks up the most sensational of mental illness stories: the schizophrenic who goes nuts and shoots his family, or a bipolar person who went on a manic rampage.  When someone kills themselves, some will say that they were being selfish by not thinking about the people around them, not understanding that the mental processes of a depressed person don’t work like a happy person’s.  All personal connections fade away into dimness, like having your ears stuffed with cotton and dark glasses on your eyes.

I feel bad for Mr. Williams’ children and wife.  Almost everyone who is left behind by a suicide wonders if there wasn’t something that they could have done to prevent their death, and this is doubly so for the family, the people that spent the most time with the person.  They may be left with a persistent guilt, however unfounded, about having not been able to do anything for them.  I myself deal with this regarding the death of my mother.  We were nearly estranged at the time of her death, and I sometimes wonder if she might not have decided to hang on if our relationship hadn’t been better.  She was a very difficult person to get along with, though, and suffered from severe mental illness for most of her life.  Before she died she told me not to ask her to come live here rather than with her abusive husband.  There may be some insight in a suicide letter that was given to me by a friend of hers recently, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it.

What I can do is take the best care of myself that I can, which first and foremost means taking my medication (though I’m not suggesting Mr. Williams necessarily needed it – for all we know, he was taking some).  That’s not always enough, though, so it’s important to eat and sleep well and exercise when I can.  It’s very difficult sometimes, though, because my illness sometimes makes it hard to do anything, let alone go out and exercise, or cook a healthy meal.  Then all I can do is hunker down and wait, and if necessary let my shrink know how I’m doing in case I need a med tweak.  I may not be entirely forthcoming with those around me about my true feelings all the time, but I know when I’m a bad place and need to ask for help, or at least maintain my connections with people so I don’t get isolated.

I pray that a ray of light, however tiny, continues to shine on my existence so that I am not ever completely in the dark.  I pray that my other friends who struggle with depression never succumb to that dark impulse.  But most of all, I pray I never feel as bad as Robin Williams did when he decided to end his own life, someone who brought so much laughter and joy to so many, but in the end could not feel it himself.

Spiritual Nomad: Week Three


Ah, finally where everyone else is.  Except for the whole breathing and meditation thing.  Which is exactly where I was last year.  I’m actually getting to a really painful part of where I was in Spiritual Nomad last year.  Week Three, at least when I was doing it, is precisely when my favorite cat turned out to be dying very unexpectedly, and it just broke my heart into tiny little pieces.  I’m still pretty shattered about it.  I adored that cat, and thinking about his death still sends me into freshets of tears.  *pauses for a tissue*  Consequently, I didn’t do anything of spiritual significance after he died: I didn’t have much to thank God for right then.  She’d taken one of my best friends from me when I thought he’d be around for a few more years.

Before that happened, though, I got started on one of my favorite projects of Spiritual Nomad: the journey book, a collection of spiritually significant quotes and images.  I latched onto that project and didn’t let go for quite some time, greedily collecting images from all over the internet and my own collection of graphics collected over the years.  I had a book of wonderful quotes from one of my favorite magazines, The Sun, and spent quite a bit of time with my colored pens putting together a really lovely book.  I filled the first one quickly and went on to partially fill a second.  I filled a third with images of the Buddha and Hindu deities.  I even tried my hand at actual scrapbooking and made a few more much more formal pages centered around images of deities or representations thereof, but that was really complicated so it didn’t go very far (scrapbooking is an incredibly time and space-consuming hobby).

The other major focus of this week’s module is prayer.  I always conceived of prayer in the Christian sense: kneeling, hands together, saying “Dear God, etc…”, which didn’t resonate with me at all (probably because I’m not Christian).  It never occurred to me to think of other things as prayer, such as singing, or dancing, or even cooking.  Seen from that perspective, I saw that I engaged in a great deal of prayer: music, cooking, baking, learning, doing art, gardening, doing karate and yoga, and perhaps most importantly, by doing nothing at all.  By clearing my mental space of distraction, I make room for God, which to me is a form of prayer.  Done with appropriate intention, anything can become an act of prayer.  One’s whole life can become a divine act.

There were questions that went with this week’s module, but they weren’t really applicable to me.  Since they mostly had to do with what spiritual books were inspiring to me and I couldn’t think of any, maybe I ought to do a little more reading.  My bookshelves are packed with a myriad of spiritual, philosophical, and metaphysical books that I thought looked interesting at the used bookstore, but never bothered to actually read.  I’m bad that way.  I could probably read new-to-me books for a couple of years or more and never visit a library or bookstore.  So I think I’ll put reading up with meditation on my list of important spiritual things to do.  Hey, at least I’ve been going to yoga more often: it’s a start.

2012 in Review


Time to review the year to see what I was up to. Let’s see here:

January
*had nice Christmas
*terrible trouble with daughter’s teacher
*husband’s wisdom teeth out
*worrying about the cats: getting old

February
*really worrying about the cats, particularly Babalon
*trying to get my shit together on the home front, organization front, and health front
*still working on a suitable med regimen for the brainmeats
*want to go to annual women’s camping trip but am really over the woman-power thing

March
*despairing over continued brainmeat trouble
*despairing over my weight
*annual depression over daughter getting older
*gardening

April
*daughter turns 9
*lost best friend when she suddenly frittered her children away to another country, as did daughter
*yet another break with my brother
*more weight loss stuff
*more crap with daughter’s teacher
*more gardening
*miss women’s camping trip, rue loss of connection to pagan-ness
*begin Spiritual Nomad
*writing more
*car trouble
*watching Star Trek: Voyager start to finish
*realization Babalon is dying

May
*more Spiritual Nomad: serious re-organization of every spiritual surface and object in the house
*serious house flensing/culling of stuff
*YinYang dies unexpectedly: absolutely breaks my heart

June
*Babalon begins winding down and dies a month after YinYang: long time coming but no less hurtful
*get very upset with vet when they bungle Babalon’s death by not cleaning her up after her euthananization or taking her pawprints like they did with YinYang
*hit critical self-loathing point with body image

July
*working on book projects hard again
*seriously grieving over the cats, feeling guilty about not being able to save YinYang
*daughter loses two friendships, one in RL and one online, when their parents let their personal feelings overrule what’s good for the kids
*adopt a new cat, Alex, who turns out to have pneumonia and dies a week later on our bed in front of all three of us: good times
*begin fostering cats: will have six by the end of the month
*adopt two kittens, Shadow and Zen
*begin using new attendance tracking system at work: will take at least two months to implement

August
*get call from niece’s mother asking if she can come to live with us: she retracts her request a week later
*work like a crazy woman on my book: get a nice copy of the 4th draft printed out

September
*terrible brainmeat trouble: anxious, noisy head, mood swings
*realize it’s because of sporadic Wellbutrin intake due to putting off filling the scrip
*get my first foster cats adopted out: bittersweet parting
*very stressed out at work trying to do two major things at once
*begin watching all of Star Trek: Next Generation

October
*finally implement new attendance system at work after some serious stress and tears over setting it up
*continued brainmeat trouble: angry much of the time
*trouble relating to daughter: a lot of strife in the house

November
*siblings-in-law visit from out of town
*adopt out two more foster kittens: leaves just one, whom we consider adopting
*hear scary things about nearby middle school daughter might attend: think about moving
*go to 11th Rush show with daughter and husband: her 2nd and his 1st

December
*adopt last foster kitten: name her Bhakti (devotion)
*decide not to foster any more cats for a little while
*discover that B vitamins and a multivitamin do incredible things for my mental health
*get back on the exercise wagon

My repeating themes seem to be body image and weight loss, personal organization and improvement, mental health management, and cats.

I can’t believe I had three cats die this year. I can’t believe YinYang died. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that. It still breaks my heart to think about it. And I still feel guilty about not being able to save him. All I can think about is every financial decision I could have made differently in the months before he died that might have freed up more money, or if I had gotten him to the vet sooner, maybe he’d still be with us. I know I shouldn’t think like that, but I can’t help it sometimes. I just loved that cat so much. And it’s the first time in my life that anyone close to me that I cared for so deeply has died. The fact that he only weighed 12-18 pounds and had four feet doesn’t make any difference. We still ‘spoke’, and he was my friend. I miss him so much.

That’s what I will remember about 2012 the most. I’ll also remember how good it felt to turn right around and help out cats in need by fostering them. I fostered six cats this year and found homes for five of them. The sixth one wound up staying here. I adopted four cats myself this year, though one wound up dying. I was a bit of a crazy cat lady for a little while there. I liked it though. It was great fun having so many kittens in the house. They were just darling. It was good to have the life energy after so much death.

It’s hard, though. Particularly if they have any medical problem that needs medicating. I hate medicating cats, especially adult cats. Poor Evelyn absolutelyhated my husband because he was the one who held her while I gave her meds. Kittens are easier. Ringworm is a bitch to kill. It takes a long time.

At the end of the year, I’m finally getting back into the swing of being healthy and exercising. I’m just going to focus on the exercise for the moment and worry about the diet later. I can only do one thing at a time. I’m happy to be down to around 230, which is about 14 pounds lighter than at the beginning of the year. I’d like to get back down to below 200. Then clothes are easier to find and I don’t feel so chunky. Yoga is easier to do. Exercise is easier. Everything is easier. And I feel better about myself, which is the most important thing. Maybe more important than the physical health benefits.

My big goal for 2013 is to finish my book and farm it out to memoir publishers. I have this inner critical voice that keeps scolding, “What makes you so special that you think people are going to want to read about your life? What have you really done with your life?” Well, I’m still upright and breathing, which considering what I went through, I think is relatively remarkable. And for the most part, I haven’t succumbed to the same demons that plagued my parents and the people before them, and the ones that do plague me, I can’t do anything about except manage them (namely, having bipolar disorder). And I won’t know if anyone thinks it’s worthy of reading until I put it out there. I’ve already had a couple of friends read it and they basically said, “Wow.” I’ll take that and run with it.

After all of the death and strife of 2012, 2013 has to be better.

Head Down


I haven’t written in three weeks, not since the post I wrote about the third cat of the summer dying just a week after we’d adopted him.  I can’t imagine why I might not have been feeling very ebullient.

I did throw myself into a project, though.  In recent months, I’ve been working on my memoir, which will in all likelihood go by the same title as this blog.  It’s a story that’s impossible to tell without delving deeply into the nature of family relationships.  In the instance of my own family, the relationship between myself, my mother, and my grandmother in particular.  That was a story unto itself, so I outlined it with the help of a shitload of letters that I came into the possession of when my grandmother’s childhood and beyond best friend had them sent to me.  They spanned from 1940 to the mid-2000s and told quite a tale that told me a great deal about my grandmother and how she may have contributed to the troubled relationship she had with my mother.  I put all that together with what I had of my own material in the form of photographs, memories, and genealogical data to piece together a century-long tale of adventure, sorrow, intrigue, despair, and resolve.

It’s early yet, so I don’t know if it will be something that stands by itself or if it will be part of the memoir, which now needs its second serious editing pass.  That will take a while and will be an interesting exercise in seeing how good I am at slowing down enough to really analyze my own writing well enough to significantly cut it.  Right now it’s like a music piece with too many notes, so it sounds busy and muddy.  Some of them have got to come out.  I do think that if each project were edited properly that they could be put together, and that along with all of the photographs, letters, and genealogical data I have, it could be really really cool.

So that’s what I’ve been working on.  And when I’m working on a big project, everything else slides.  Including my blog.  I needed something to work on, though, to get through the stress of the cats dying.  After the first cat died, I planted a 6’x8′ garden with corn, beans, and squash that is now (mostly) looking pretty darn good.  The broomcorn is blooming and there are baby melons on some of the vines.  The beans are flowering, too, so I expect some of those soon as well.  The whole thing needs fertilizer, a tilling, and mulch.  It’s somehow comforting to see the continued result of something that I planted while deeply in pain and attempting to manifest life after experiencing death.

After the second cat died, I finished up the first editing and collating pass of the memoir and sent it out to anyone who had expressed interest in looking at it.  It was much cleaner after I had taken out some travelogues that should really be appendices or a little book of their own.  I also fixed some of my attempts at playing with writing in third tense rather than first.  It was fun, but sounded pretentious and removed my ability to use that device when I needed to fill in important events that needed describing in that sort of style.  Plus, it’s my story: I should write it from my perspective.  Then the third cat died and I worked on the family history project.

So here I am with a lot of potential, and a lot of work.  One of my oldest and best friends who also has an English degree has been graciously lending her help to me on this project and was kind enough to let me know that my request for editing help was a little premature, but gave me enough to work with using my introduction to allow me to do the same to the rest of the book (and to the other one, now that it’s been written).  Fortunately, I have the ‘problem’ of having to take words out, rather than put them in.  No teacher has ever accused me of using too few words!  I should just make a list of rules to follow and get to identifying everywhere they’ve been broken.

Back to cats, some good did come out of the whole situation.  In an effort to make me happy and to save face for the organization, the people who adopted the sick cat to us in the first place graciously adopted the two kittens we were fostering to us for free.  So we are a three-cat household again.  Our existing cat has warmed right up to them, incredibly.  We thought that she might not, given that she’s so old.  Indeed, she was quite upset for several days, particularly because we had moved her food dish to be closer to theirs so they could get used to each other’s smells.  Once everything was back where it was supposed to be, she was happy again and they’re all getting along fine.  And of course, kittens!!!

We’re still fostering cats, as well.  At the moment, we have a mama and her two young kittens, about 5-6 weeks old.  Which means they’re stupid-noises cute.  Mama’s still a juvenile too, and has a high-pitched chirrup-y meow that is also incredibly cute.  I’m looking forward to finding homes for them, despite my fondness for them.  I’m sure there will be some heart-tugging when it’s time for them to go, but I’ll be happy when they find their forever-homes.

But wait, there’s more, now how much would you pay?  Today, I’m picking up a set of 3-week or so old kittens to live in our back bathroom.  If they weren’t begging for kitten fosters at the moment, I wouldn’t, but I have the space and it’s hard for me to ignore emails telling me that if they don’t foster kittens, others will be euthanized.  Yes, I’m that sucker, but it’s me and suckers like me that are attempting to keep Austin a no-kill city, which we (mostly) are.  So having an extra set of kittens is a trial run.  If it’s just too much to handle, we won’t do it again, but hey, it might be fun and it’s a good thing to do.  The only drawback so far is the increased expense in cat food and litter.  And having to sanitize our hands constantly, at least for a couple of weeks (standard initial isolation procedure).  On the upside, kittens!!!  🙂

It’s Just Not Right


Last Wednesday, we adopted a new cat.  His name at the shelter was Bucky, but we named him Alex.  We used a local non-profit animal rescue group that makes a big deal out of adopting healthy animals that have been thoroughly checked out, neutered, and microchipped.  They were even having a special in order to move as many cats out of the shelter as possible, so he wasn’t expensive.  It seemed like the stars were in alignment.

Well, they were in a negative alignment, it seems.  The first day, we noticed he made an odd cough and that he seemed warm.  Just in case, we separated him from the rest of the house so he couldn’t infect our existing cat.  The second day, he coughed a couple more times, more severely, like a wet bronchial cough.  The third day he had his wellness check at the vet, where he was diagnosed with a viral infection and to bring him back in a couple of weeks if he wasn’t better.  The next day he was listless and his breathing had become bubbly.  The next day he was worse and I called the shelter where we had gotten him.  They scheduled a vet visit for the next day.

We took him in and they diagnosed him with pneumonia.  After a brief inner debate as to whether he should be hospitalized, the vet decided to send him home with me along with a number of treatments: antibiotics, appetite stimulants, subcutaneous fluids, a nebulizer, and a syringe for force feeding him if necessary.  I steeled myself for ten days of cat nursing.

The first day went fine.  At his fourth nebulizing treatment I noticed that the inside of his carrier was getting wet and musty, which  they didn’t tell me to watch out for (they didn’t give me any instructions at all, really), so I got it all cleaned out.  His breathing went back and forth between improving and getting bubbly again.  He still wouldn’t eat, so we had to syringe feed him.  He didn’t like it, of course, but we managed to get a syringe full of food into him.

He spent that entire night moving around the entire room about once every half hour.  It reminded me of Yin-Yang before he died, who just couldn’t get comfortable and kept moving around.  I couldn’t sleep for the sound of his bubbly breathing: it was awful.  He was laying in weird places, too, as well as laying very limply.  He may have already been on his way out.

The next morning, it was time for more antibiotics, food, and nebulizing.  He had trouble with his pill and I had to try twice to get him to take it, and I’m not sure if he ever swallowed it properly. Then we tried to feed him, which was much more difficult than it had been the night before.  I took his resistance as a sign that he was feeling better so we burritoed him in a towel like we had seen on the internet.  I knew to keep him in a sitting position much like he’d be in if he were eating normally so he wouldn’t choke, but this feeding was not going nearly as smoothly as the one the night before.  Whenever he appeared to be having trouble, I’d stop and let him settle, then try again.

Then towards the end of the feeding, he opened his mouth wide, arched his back, and went limp.  We laid him down, he exhaled, and he didn’t inhale again.  It was horrifying.  I’ve never seen anything die in front of me before, and I still can’t help but think that it was my fault somehow.  Everyone tells me that it’s not, especially since he should never have been sent home with us in the first place, but still.  I feel so terrible.  I was trying to help this poor creature get better, and now he’s dead from that very treatment, even if I was merely hastening the inevitable.  I just wish that his last few moments hadn’t been so tortured.  That’s what I feel the worst about, that I may have inadvertently caused this poor creature agony in his last moments.  I didn’t mean to, and I’m so sorry.  I’m so, so sorry Alex.

I wish that they had kept him for hospitalizing on Monday instead of sending him home with me.  I wish that they had realized last week that he was sick and not adopted him to me in the first place.  I wish that I had said no, I don’t want a cat with a history of an upper respiratory infection when they told me he’d had one while in the shelter, even though he’d been treated for it (not well enough apparently).  I wish that they had given me better instructions for how to care for this obviously very, very ill cat.  I wish that I had more experience in caring for sick cats and doing things like syringe feeding.  I wish that I had stopped the instant he looked like he wasn’t digging the feeding and just called the shelter again, but I had never done it before and didn’t know what to watch out for and he really needed to eat.  I mean, you’re force-feeding a cat: there’s going to be mess and unpleasantness.  I wish for so many things that might have changed what happened yesterday morning.

Even though he was only with us for a week, he was still part of the family, and we treated him as such.  He got the same treatment Yin-Yang and Babalon did when they died: I wrapped him up, smudged his body and his grave, and we said some words over him before burying him with his head towards the West.  He’s next to Yin-Yang, who will hopefully help him on his way to the Great Catnip Field in the Sky.

As for us, we’ve spent the last 24 hours sanitizing as much as we can so the other cats don’t get infected.  To a certain extent all we can do is pray, because he was out and about for a while before we knew he was sick.  God only knows what he touched with his face.  I can only take comfort in the fact that the germs will die by themselves in a few days, and within 24 hours if they get hit with proper cleansing and some Lysol.  I’ve done probably a dozen loads of laundry to clean every single thing in the room he was in, vacuumed the carpet with germicidal baking soda, Lysol’d the areas he spent the most time in, and am fumigating  the air with more germicidal oils.  Anything that can’t be washed has been sprayed with Lysol and left out in the Sun.  And I’ve done similarly to the whole house since his disease may have been airborne (in which case the horse is out of the barn anyway).

It would be bad enough if our own cat, Samadhi, gets ill because of Alex.  It would be even worse if the two kittens we are fostering got sick because of him.  I would be up the ass and down the throat of the shelter who gave us to him in the first place to make these kittens well.  So far everyone has been healthy, and it’s been about a week since anyone was exposed to anything Alex might have breathed on or touched, so hopefully we’re in the clear.  I won’t stop holding my breath for at least another week, though, when I know it’s been two weeks, which is how long the shelter tells people to isolate pets to ensure health.  If nothing is wrong within two weeks, everything should be okay.

And they’d better be, because we like these kittens and are thinking of adopting them.  We were a house of three cats, and we’d like to be so again.

*shakes head*  It’s just not right, but I’m going to try and make it right.  This summer can just kiss my flabby white butt.

Ghost Feet


They say the fog moves in on little cat feet.  So do ghosts.  Mine do, anyway.  When I was a child, I had a cat who would jump onto the foot of my bed every night after I went to bed.  He’d nose open my bedroom door and *poomp* onto the bed he’d go.  So it went for a few years until he got sick and we had to put him to sleep due to a urinary blockage (something that is thankfully treatable these days).  I was in the third grade and absolutely heartbroken.  Sam was my best friend.  He died on the first day of school, which I always thought was a particularly cruel twist of fate.

In the days following his death, I swore up and down that I could still hear my door creak open at night and feel his feet hit the foot of my bed just like they used to.  Fortunately my mother was a fairly mystical creature and was open-minded to the notion that her daughter was being visited by the ghost of our dead cat, so she didn’t do anything to discourage the idea.

It hasn’t been since then, 1979, that my life has been such that I’ve been able to pay attention to such forces.  Not that I haven’t had pets die in that time period, but other energies have been in the way.  There was a Sam II, a lovely black-and-white critter who came with us from Michigan, and who was also my buddy.  He just up and disappeared in 1986, again breaking my heart.  There was no time or space to detect the subtle nuance of any spiritual return on his part, though: that was the year things began to go truly and horribly wrong at my house, and they would never be right again.  Then there as Bizarre, yet another beautiful creature who was all white with bi-colored eyes like David Bowie.  I gave her to friends when I went travelling, and she was regrettably hit by a car in my absence.  Since I was gone and she wasn’t really mine anymore, I didn’t get any visits from her that I noticed.

The next cat I got was Babalon, and if you’ve been reading in recent weeks, you should know her story by now, and of her kids.  I’ve missed their presence so.  The house is empty.  Babalon had a big personality despite being just a regular-sized cat, and YinYang had a personality twice the size of his massive body.  Samadhi is still here, but she was always overshadowed by the other two.  We love her of course, but she’s not her mother or brother, and I realize it’s not fair to compare her to the other two.  I can’t help it, though.  I miss them so much.

I’ve been “looking” for their presence in the house.  I remembered my experience with Sam, and I’ve desperately wanted something like that.  Well I think I have.  A couple of times the last week or so, I could have sworn I’ve heard Babalon’s faint yowling like she did before she died.  She’d just sit in an empty room and make these plaintive yowls like she wanted someone or something.  I’d always come to her and pet her and tell her everything was okay, and she’d lay back down.  And this morning, after I had awoken but before I had gotten up, just like with Sam, I felt the light footfall of two paws hitting the bed, just as Babalon would do in the morning when she had heard my alarm had gone off.

The only time I’ve felt YinYang’s presence was a couple of weeks ago when I was having a particularly hard sobbing fit of guilt and regret over having not recognized his illness sooner, and I had the distinct sensation of him by my feet walking around in a circle with the message of, “Don’t cry, it’s okay, I love you!”

I was glad for the message of reassurance, even if it might only be coming from my own subconscious, but it didn’t do anything to ease my missing him.  I suppose that’s one of those things that really is only healed by time.  I’ve learned in the last month and a half that grief comes in waves, like the ocean.  It washes over you until you think you might drown, and then it rolls back out so you can heave with breath on the shore.  They come slower and smaller over time, though.  I imagine at some point they’ll just be little waves lapping at my toes as I sit on the shore enjoying the shells of my memories.