Saturday, May 25, 2013

Towel Day

Edgar was my second cat. My first cat, Lucy, died when she was only a year old of unexplained liver failure. A couple of weeks after she died, I took her food to the Humane Society to donate, and when I turned around, there was a young cat staring at me from a cage at eye level. He so clearly wanted the hell out, so I took him home. That was November 1996.

Edgar was an attack cat. Ankles, knees, anything that moved was fair game. He was also and often simultaneously a snuggler. He's the only cat I've ever known who never got tired of being petted. He never got up and walked away. When his tail started switching back and forth, you knew it was time to stop moving your hand around, but you were not supposed to stop touching him. This made getting work done challenging.

When I called the Humane Society this morning to ask about euthanasia and cremation (our vet is closed for the holiday weekend), his tail suddenly started switching again. He'd been perfectly still all morning, and you would've sworn that he understood what I was doing and was objecting. But I spent the whole day with him, just sitting with him, and it wasn't a mistake. His back legs stopped working yesterday, and at first he could pull himself around, but he also didn't want to eat, hadn't eaten since Wednesday in fact, so today he was too weak to move on his own at all. Every once in a while he would struggle and I would sit him up so he could roll over onto his other side. That was all he seemed to want. He never purred today at all. I'm pretty sure this was the first day of his life when he never purred.

We spent the morning on the sun porch, and then when it got too hot I carried him in to my bed, and turned on the fans and opened the windows so he could keep smelling the fresh air, at the same time that I shut all the other windows in the house and turned on the AC to try to keep him cool.

My sister was supposed to pick us up at 4:30, and when I saw that the clock said 4:08, I thought I was going to throw up. I took a Pepto just in case. I still don't know how I did that, got Edgar into his crate, carried him into the car, and answered "yes" when the veterinarian asked if I was ready. I don't know how anybody ever does that because clearly I am NOT FUCKING READY. But Edgar was. He was mad as hell because he couldn't move, was mad as hell at being in an exam room, and he needed out. It was my job to get him out of that cage 16 years ago, and it was my job to get him out today.

I'm so glad I asked my sister to go with me. Seriously, the next time you have to put a pet to sleep, take my sister with you. She'll cry right along with you so you don't feel stupid. My arms were busy holding onto Edgar, so she couldn't hold my hand, so she held my leg instead. The most comforting thing that happened all day was my sister's hand wrapped around my shin while I had my arms wrapped around Edgar. I don't think she realized that.

The hardest part in any death for me is finally leaving the person behind. (Yes, person. I dare you to tell Edgar that he's not a person.) I was taken by surprise by that when my grandfather died when I was 12. He'd been sick for a while, and we'd spent a week in the hospital with him, and then at the funeral home and the church, and when the graveside was over and I realized that we were just going to walk away and leave his coffin, that's when I got really upset.

So today before it was time to go, I realized that was going to be hard, but I found a solution. I got the towel out of his crate and laid him on it. It made it okay to leave. I told the staff that I had left the towel, and they assumed I wanted it kept with him, but I told them they could wash it and use it. (The Humane Society can always use towels.) I just needed it to be there when I left the room, so he wouldn't be alone. And now I'm toting the towel he's slept on all day around with me. This is the towel that's been in his crate most of his life. At some point recently there was a laundry switch, and another old towel was the one that went to the Humane Society today and that I left with him. This is the one that's ridden in his crate for years, and is snagged and partly shredded. It's the one I think of as "Edgar's Towel." I can't make myself put it down yet. If anyone comes to my door tonight, they will find a red-eyed, red-nosed woman carrying around a ratty old towel.

The fact that it's Towel Day is not lost on me. I know where my towel is, and Edgar has his, too, so we're all going to be all right.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kids These Days

I hardly know where to begin. Maybe my first stop should be a caveat about how the public institution where I spend a small part of my working life attracts patrons of all ages, from 1 to 101. Rarely does a day pass when some child does not throw a temper tantrum, an embarrassed caregiver desperately shushes said child, and some third person, usually someone over 50, remarks under his breath that in his day, children weren't allowed to behave so abominably.

The third person—or rather, people, because they are legion—drive me bats. I know perfectly well that in their day things were not so wonderful as they misremember. In their day, children threw just as many temper tantrums as they do now, and caregivers tried just as desperately to shush them. In their day the child was probably more likely to get smacked for misbehaving, but I'd rather listen to a kid scream until light bulbs shatter than see one get hit, so I'm glad I live in my day, not theirs.

So I have no patience for people who start their conversations with, "In my day. . . ."

And yet. In my day. . . . 

I wore my John today. John is the last in a long line of college tee shirts. I'm not sure why he's held up so well, maybe because the plastic or whatever it is his giant head is made of reinforces the fabric. For whatever reason, John is still with me. I love him dearly and will wear him until he's in tatters, when he will be placed lovingly into the storage tub with all my other favorite tee shirts that have become little more than fragments. I'm sure the Billie Holiday tee shirt will welcome him home as a long-lost friend.

Now you may not have noticed it—I know I certainly didn't at first—but this photo of John bears a superficial resemblance to another contemporary pop culture icon, a certain orphaned wizard we all know and many of us love. The first time I was in a grocery store and a 6-year-old pointed at my shirt and yelled "Harry Potter!" I was surprised, but not for long. It's the round glasses, you see.

So even though I hadn't been planning a pop culture lesson, I was a little more prepared when I wore John to after-school tutoring and five kids simultaneously pointed and screamed "Harry Potter!" (Seriously, they all scream. Harry Potter apparently engenders the kind of emotion in children not seen since teen girls fell in love with the Beatles themselves.) "No," I said, "This is a musician named John Lennon. When you get home tonight, ask your parents if you can listen to some music by the Beatles. No, not like the bugs. Seriously, just ask them. I'm not kidding." If even one child got to hear "I Want to Hold Your Hand" that night, I feel that I've made the world a better place.

This evening, though, when a 20-something clerk, a young woman with dyed black hair and a nose ring, a young woman who is clearly working so hard to be hip and alternative, looked at my tee shirt, my John, and felt compelled to comment on a recent Harry Potter marathon on TV, I was not prepared.

When did our culture get into this state? When did our young adults forget about the "long-haired hippies" who paved the way for their nose rings? When did the youth of today forget about the original "alternative" music? Where are their parents?! 

In my day, any teenage rebel worth her salt could recite the entire White Album. In my day, even when we were listening to Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers, we still remembered who our rock and roll ancestors were. In my day. . . . 


Something has to be done. I'm proposing that we all celebrate Beatles Day. July 10, the anniversary of the day the Fab Four returned to Liverpool after they "conquered" the United States in 1964, is the official Beatles Day, but I don't think we can wait until July. We need the Beatles now!

So find your Abbey Road CD, or dig through that old box of cassette tapes if you have to. If you have kids, please, please, for the sake of our future as a nation, as a culture, as a world, please sit them down and explain the British Invasion. Explain to them that the Harry Potter stories are great fun, but what John, Paul, George, and Ringo did was nothing short of revolution.  

Me, I'm going to start celebrating immediately. "Rocky" was always one of my favorites.