Regarding Slasher and his sad demise (part II)

Over the years, my feisty cat Slasher slowed significantly, for which my five-year-old daughter was particularly grateful.  They had spent her first four and a half years as sworn enemies, but now, too old to hunt or even make it to the top bunk, he stayed in and spent the whole night on Josie’s bed. Sometimes, the whole day as well.  Those two were suddenly inseparable.

By late February, we knew we had an old, ailing cat, but we didn’t realize he was dying, so we headed to paradise for a family vacation. By the second night away, the catsitter was calling.  Slasher wasn’t getting up much at all anymore.  She brought his water dish onto Josie’s bed and called me to express concern.  I spent the next few days anxiously touring volcanoes or pretending to relax on the beach…then hurrying back to the rental to phone the sitter and sob.  Poor Hannah.  This was not the first time a pet tried to kick the bucket on her watch.  She stopped by twice a day and called with updates.  Since he was 18 with few systems functioning properly, we all knew what was coming.  We just wanted him to hold on until we got there.

When we arrived home, sandy and bleary-eyed, it was four in the morning.  I saw immediately that he was skin and bones, lying in a pool of urine.  I stripped the bed and cleaned him up as best I could.  I tucked Josie in fresh sheets and made a pile of baby blankets beside her for Slasher.  In the morning, I tried to move him to a cozy, waterproof spot downstairs where I could comfort him and make vet calls at the same time, but when he collapsed trying to drag himself back to Josie’s bed, I relented.

The next couple of days are a sad, sad blur.  Crying while driving.  Crying in the grocery store.  Crying at NPR stories, at the funnies, and anytime someone asked, “how are you?”  Acknowledging his distaste for the vet, we had him put to sleep at home, while we held him and stroked him.  No one could get his eyes to close, though, so he continued to stare at me in his scrappy, crusty way.  For days.

In my house, it takes quite a while to prepare for an appropriate burial.  Photographs must be taken.  A coffin must be made…and decorated…and further embellished with sparkly items.  A grave marker is necessary, as is the name plaque.  This all takes time, as you can imagine.  Time when said dead pet remains lying around our house.  I noticed that this seemed to cause other parents some anxiety, so I started to tell them about the dead cat before the playdate, and reassure them about proper handwashing, et cetera.  That only made things worse.

Where are you keeping him?” one mother asked, completely perplexed.  As I was answering, I realized that letting your child sleep with a dead cat was a little unorthodox. Believe it or not, it didn’t feel anywhere near as creepy as that must sound.  He was swaddled in his favorite little blanket, in a shallow wooden box, with a couple of cat toys and a fairly peaceful expression.  Except for the staring, I mean.  Josie couldn’t sleep without him there, and Slasher wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, so it just made sense at the time.  I knew it wasn’t a long-term plan.  I think Josie got a couple of nights with him after he was sealed in his coffin, as well, while we prepared for the burial, but then we had to transition her to a stuffed cat, and lots of extra bedtime stories.  “Who will bury me when I die?” she asked the night after we finally laid him to rest.  I couldn’t answer.

We still miss that guy like crazy, but there’s a new cat now.  Elsie plays fetch and sleeps on my head.  She squawks and perches on my shoulder and often does that Halloween cat pose with fur on end and back humped into the air. She’s worming her way into my heart, too, but there’s no telling if she’ll schmooze and head to the bars like her predecessor.  Just got her outdoor shots and her tags, though, so we’ll know soon enough.

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Regarding Slasher

I once begged a ride home from Death Valley and the guy driving kept asking: “Wait. Where do you live? Which cross street? Where on that block? Which side of the street?” Since we were still about ten hours from the city, I started getting a little nervous. Finally he said, “Then YOU must know that cat Slasher.” ”Well, yeah,” I said, surprised. ”He’s my cat.” Ed had to pull over and call his wife. ”You’ll NEVER BELIEVE this!” he yelled into his phone. ”I JUST MET SLASHER’S OWNER!”

You may think I am exaggerating, but it was not uncommon for complete strangers to greet my cat by name as we passed by, while ignoring me altogether.  That furry guy knew everyone.  He hung out in folks’ garages while they tinkered, and lolled on their stoops on sunny afternoons.  He knew where to go for tuna and extra love, and I tried not to get too jealous when I saw him coming out of other houses.  He was quite a gentleman, after all, taking me on walks, spending time with the elderly, and escorting one woman home from public transport every evening. He was even mentioned in the student guidebook for the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine:  ”Absolutely no pets allowed, except guide dogs and Slasher.” Meanwhile, we got phone calls from bars and restaurants that he frequented, often late at night.  ”Do you have a cat named Slasher?” they would ask.  “That depends,” my husband would say.  ”What’s his tab?”

Not everyone loved him, though. As evidence, he was missing quite a bit of both ears. German Shepherds feared him. Dog walkers couldn’t stand him. And if you had a cat allergy, he made sure to bite your ankles and shed all over you.  Some lawyer actually threatened some vague sort of legal action, claiming that he had terrorized her and her dog and then followed them “in attack mode.” While I found that letter endlessly entertaining and hung it on the fridge, even I had to admit a healthy fear of him, fueled mostly by our frequent trips to the vet for his hyperthyroidism.  Have you ever tried to lovingly shove a ferocious beast into the side door of a cat carrier?  Slasher would get so worked up clawing my arm for half an hour that he never failed to excrete a giant, malodorous turd on the way to the vet.  I assume this was an expression of dismay regarding my disrespectful behavior.  Thank goodness I discovered a top-loading cat carrier before losing a limb.

Love or hate, you had to admit he was an exceptional cat, and until March 2, I had the honor of catering to his every need.

Here’s where the story gets sad and a bit demented.  In my defense, there is a lot of gray area in parenting, and sometimes it’s hard to decide which path will lead to a greater need for therapy.  Tune in tomorrow…

A few things I wish I’d learned the easy way (part two)

     If you are wondering what this post is about and why it is called part two, it would be swell if you took a look at yesterday’s post.  Of course, I could just tell you that I’m passing on a few things I’ve discovered the hard way so you don’t have to.  I could even mention that on Sunday, I discussed poor vision, dumb cats, and boobs…but I think I’ll let you figure it all out for yourself.
4.  Avoiding conflict is not a long-term solution.
     Don’t get me wrong.  This is the secret to surviving the holidays and prolonged car trips.  I should know.  My family used to drive across the country every year with six people, a cat, and a very bad dog crammed into the car.  I learned how to get changed without flashing truckers, how to read inappropriate books without attracting any attention, and most importantly, how to keep my mouth shut.  Most of this I gleaned from watching my sister do it all wrong.
     One heated altercation ended abruptly when she rolled down the window of the Gran Torino and sat in the sill clinging to the car-top carrier.  Dad didn’t even slow down.  As we careened through the mountains with her ass dangling off the side of a cliff, I made a mental note:  never do what she had done.  I figured, why risk life and limb just to make your lousy point?  What good is making your parents so mad that they won’t pull over to make peace and/or save your crappy teenage life? It’s not like she got her way or anything.  (F.Y.I.:  She’s alive!  And she’s not crappy; I meant that being a teenager feels kind of crappy sometimes).
     While the lesson here seems obvious now–avoid confrontation while piled in the family truckster–I processed this lesson in a much broader sense.  I came to the unfortunate conclusion that conflict was to be avoided at all costs and inany situation.  Though I was probably only 7 or 8 at the time, it has taken me an embarrassingly long time to re-evaluate.
     There are plenty of times when I still suck it up.  I continue to do whatever is necessary to endure five days in the car–like buy a plane ticket instead.  What I am saying is that over a long period of time, avoiding conflict is bad for the digestive system, the quality of life, and the very relationships you are trying to protect.  If you are afraid that broaching a topic might drive a wedge between you and someone you love, remember that your silence has already formed a wedge.  Avoiding the truth ensures that real connection cannot occur.
     Put that in your pipe and smoke it.