Saturday, November 15, 2014
(This is something I was writing to my friend Bex in an email. I never cheat and copy and paste my writing from one thing to another, but I’m making an exception this time.)
Stanley was my first cat. All grey. Reminded me of a Russian Blue. Tough cat; my hundred pound dog Kahlua was petrified of Stanley. When Harold and Maude were just pups, Stanley made sure they knew who was boss. It was very funny to watch a six pound cat take on a hundred pound dog, and he did it all with his eyes, a sharp tongue with his Siamese Meow, but the slap to a big black nose every so often punctuated Stanley’s point. Stanley was known to even chase strange dogs out of the yard. He was the King of Rasor Avenue.
Stanley introduced me to the essence of Catness, As I said, I had never had a cat my dad detested them probably more than my current partner does.
I believe that every being, whether it be animal or human, which are animals, this being has something to teach me. I should have known that Stanley was going to be an amazing teacher.
The bond between Stanley and I wasn’t all roses at first; there were plenty of times when I or he pushed the boundaries. One of the things he taught me was to read his body language, his meow, his eyes; he always told me what he was feeling, and if I didn’t pay attention, I would get two paws to the face with all claws out. I was a quick study. If he huffed, I had a choice of either clamping down all four of his weapons or walk away. Yes, he would give me plenty of notice. Perhaps we all do, but I’m not so great at picking up the hints or perhaps I don’t want to.
I learned to watch Stanley’s ears, his eyes. I especially learned to listen to his meow. Once I knew his language, our bond was one of those special ones that I’ll never feel again.
I hadn’t even planned on having a cat. This was an unplanned family. I hadn’t been living in Eugene for maybe a year or two. At 24 or 25, I was rather a mess. Imagine a big wad of twisted barbwire, and that’s what I was like. I wasn’t even a neat ball of barbed wire, but a tangle that seemed like it had no solution.
I had moved away from Boston, though basically I ran away. My sister Deb came out to visit. I get the suspicion that my dad sent her out to check up on me. They were worried about m. I should have been at least half as.
I took my sister to the sights, the coast and the Buttes. I had to take her to the infamous Saturday Market. There were these two kittens. I am a sucker for a kitten or a puppy or anything cute. Baby snakes do nothing for me. But there was this black one that drew me to him. Sorry Stanley, but I had always had a soft spot for black cats; you were after all named after my sister Barbara’s black cat Stanley. That’s got to say something. Once I found out their gender, which wasn’t obvious at the time, I landed on Stanley and Oliver. I had always loved Laurel and Hardy. That comment is for the younger readers.
I brought Stanley and Oliver home, and they taught me, trained me to be their servants. At least these guys were indoor/outdoor cats, so I didn’t have to sift kitty poo like it was gold. Oliver had this thing about sleeping on my head. I’m not sure why, but Oliver would gently bite my chin. Love bites. Stanley preferred to be under the covers with me. I would wake to hearing, feeling Stanley gently pawing at the covers to signal he was ready for bed. I would lift the covers and he would come under and curl up against my body, purring me back to sleep. My present partner came after the cats, so even though she was used to cats staying outdoors, my cats were grandfathered in.
As I said, animals com into our lives to teach us something, and sometimes the lesson isn’t learned during their lifetime. Sometimes seeds are spread, but the learning doesn’t happen for years. And unfortunately, to make that lesson even more powerful, the cat is not destined to be in my life for very long. Oliver was one of those fleeting brushes with a spark, a little meteor, bright for such a short while, but too bright to sustain the fire for very long. Oliver. The cat that the night would engulf him and leave only his eyes; I often teased him about being a Cheshire Cat. Unfortunately the Midnight black Oliver didn’t survive River Road’s death trap. What he was trying to do crossing a four-lane road, I never could figure out.
And as I write this blog, I am realizing how many of those lessons that Oliver and then Stanley really did teach me. Be patient with me as I flit back and forth. Patience is one of those things that I’m still learning. I might as well teach it as I learn.
I wish dogs could live as long as cats. But I am grateful for the lengthy lives of felines. A long life isn’t so hard on the eyes as those lives who explode with sparks and flame for the short period they are with me.
Stanley might have been eighteen or nineteen when his kidneys started to fail. I bought some time with medication, specially food, and lots of coercing to stick around. I begged and prayed and demanded that Stanley stick around; i couldn’t imagine going through another lose. It hadn’t been that long since I had lost Kahlua, and time hadn’t healed the wounds of Oliver’s death. I just couldn’t take another loss, and he knew it; he probably stuck around an extra year or two to help me deal with his impending death. My track record for dealing with loss, whether it be animal or human loss hasn’t been easy for me, but I gather that’s the same for anyone having to deal with the break a solid bond.
I don’t quite know if my mom’s death caused me to bond so tightly with my animals. I was rather tight with the beagle, but my mom’s death did was part of the reasons I stepped back from relating to humans and only relating to animals. Anyone who knows me has heard me say that if I had to choose between a dog and a human, there would be no question the dog would be the choice. As a result of investing so much energy into every dog, cat, bird, gerbil, and even turtle, and the fact that their lifespans are so short, every light that goes out takes a little bit of light out of myself.
Stanley was never a heavy cat. Sleek and powerful. But as his Siamese build thinned and his Siamese meow got quieter, I could tell he was done. And then he wouldn’t eat anything. I was constantly cooking for him or opening various cans for him. I must have had at least a dozen bowls of food in the fridge that I would try him on. Sometimes it took eleven tries to find that one thing he would eat. And we’re not talking about cat food. Sometimes he would eat tuna, other times he would eat tuna juice but not tuna. Chicken, hot or cold. Chicken broth, hot or cold. Shrimp, shrimp juice. Liver, cooked, raw, pureed. He hated when I gave him subcutaneous fluid to fend off dehydration. I can still hear his screams of protests and his huffs that told of his protests and show how really ticked off at me, he was.
Stanley and I had an amazing relationship by the end. Yes, I did have to worry abut his lightning fast claws, though not toward the end. He had a twisted sense of humor; you could see it in his eyes. Maybe he had watched Garfield too often, but his eyes would close a bit and there was a sharpness to his look. His favorite thing was to wait for me to be in the room farthest away when he would begin the indicating sound of a cat ready to vomit. I used to tell my military school students that when they beepopped or whatever that obnoxious sound is, it reminded me of a cat throwing up. I would hear the sound and be like O.J Simpson, during his nice guy days, and race through the house. Mind you, the house was perhaps six hundred square feet in totality, so there really weren’t that many steps from the back bedroom to the kitchen.
Stanley had the Laurel and Hardy timing down. Just as I would come flying into the kitchen, Stanley would send a projectile from the highest point, the fridge, and onto the floor, creating as much splatter as possible. Maybe I should have taken pictures; maybe Stanley was just expressing his artistic side.
Stanley trusted me whole heartedly. He loved traveling on my shoulders. He didn’t like it, but he tolerated being rocked like a baby; most cats I have had will not expose their vulnerable spot, but I don’t think Stanley had one.
We taught each other humor, as I had my twisted side as well. I had never seen cat yodelling before, but I was a practioner. Just in case you are unfamiliar with the activity, the main ingredients you have to have is a slightly pissed of cat and perhaps gloves. Along with his short powerful huffs that warned me that a storm was coming, Stanley had a meow that was more like a angry tone. His body language would shift; his tail would begin to twitch. His ears would start to lie down. Energy was being transferred to his paws, especially the back ones that could do the best rabbit punch. I considered this moment the prime. Carefully i would hold onto all fours as tightly as I could without hurting him,, but mostly to prevent him from hurting me. I would then as he growled, I would gently shake him and his growl would sound like a machine gun. I didn’t do this very often, and when people would accuse me of doing bad things to my cat, I would ask why he would keep coming back?
But then we got to the point where there was no coming back. I was the only one having a tough time coming to terms with his death. Forever wasn’t even long enough time for him to be in my life, but at least I had plenty of notice. It’s the abrupt deaths that really beat me up. Took me a long time to get over finding Oliver dead on River road. My dog Kahlua almost got hit because he followed me and I wasn’t paying attention to him, just on the lifeless black form on the farthest side of the road.
I arranged to meet Devon, my vet, at the unfinished dome; it was a few years from being livable. I think it was a Wednesday, a day that we didn’t normally go to the dome. I opened the taped door and stepped into the skeleton of a home, our future dream home; there were some interior walls up, giving a basic idea of room constructions, but you could walk through the framed walls. Electricity and plumbing didn’t exist. Both sets of stairs were done so we could get from the basement to the main room and then to the loft. Devon suggested the loft as it was the warmest part of the uninsulated house. When we got up to the loft, there was a bird flying around, frantically bouncing off of walls, low ceilings, and the plastic that covered the windows. I don’t remember a kind. Maybe a Chickadee. I created an opening and the bird flew out. Do you believe in omens? That bird was Stanley’s ticket out.
I gave Stanley to Devon and he didn’t resist. There are only two times a cat will be nonchalant with Devon; the first and the last time they meet. I could be talking to her on the phone and cats would hide.
There’s probably a lot more to this story, but I’m running out of tissues. It’s been 25 years and tears still come when I think about Stanley and his brother Oliver.