My armpits are lonely.
My cuddle cat passed away. She died. In my arms.
She was a petite Siamese with that stubby, crooked Asian tail; whenever I pet her, my hand continued along the “cat tail arc” long after her actual tail had actually ended. What she lacked in tail, she gained in character – as if she needed any more.
Her favorite place to be was wherever I was. Under my feet – as I walked (cat-danced) down the stairs. At my side – when I fell down the stairs. Talking at me as I walked in the door – presumably to tell me about her day; I rarely ever got a word in edgewise. Like it mattered because her day was always more interesting: “Well, let’s see. I napped. Then I got up, stretched, turned around, and had a nap to recover. By then, the patch of sunshine had moved, so I had to get up again, and I hissed at the big guy who was blocking the light and then edged forward to avoid getting nipped at before sandwiching myself between the boys . . . ”
She would walk across my desk with cat-like aim for every item she could step on, ruin, or topple. She’d send coded messages as she retyped whatever I was working on; in fact, she made certain that her paws struck as many letters as possible whilst standing solidly on one key: “delete”. All so that she could make her way to the hand cream pump which I’d try to hide further from her view (or my use). And then: LET the licking begin! She had a fetish for moisturizers – all types – in bottles or on bodies.
And no one (in our house, anyway) played soccer / football like this cat did. Medicine bottles, pens, boxes of tissues – okay, simply everything on my nightstand – was fair game at 4:30 in the morning. She was my alarm clock and she was set to go off way too early. The other cats would scream their distress at the possibility of being starved; they’d race back and forth across me in Olympic speed trials. But not my Siamese. She took a very direct approach: swat everything to the ground. One. Item. At. A. Time. SCORE. (Repeatedly and aggravatingly.) SCORE. SCORE. SCORE. She won every game. No intermissions. No refs making calls in my favor. If there was a cheer team, it would have been for her.
She was her own cat. The only female and the tiniest by far amongst four other males, two twice her weight. What she lacked in sheer body size, she gained in her polite stare that made you follow her gaze panicking, “Oh cripe! Is that an axe murderer, a moth, or a friggin’ cat-fur tumbleweed?” And heck, with those four big-boy felines, she knew how to swat back. I always taught my girls that hands were for hugging. But I think this girl understood that there were moments when a decisive paw smack at one of the boys would be a helluva lot more effective than an ear licking. And yet she gave them all baths – like it or not, need it or not. She was that kind of lady: a lover and a fighter.
She was quirky. I couldn’t run the cannister vacuum without her screaming at me. Loudly. Over the vacuum’s whir-suck-shtzzzzz sound. She’d dodge in front of the vac’s long arm. Oddly, she wasn’t trying to protect me and she wasn’t trying to stop me; she was just pleading with me to vacuum her! Head to paws. Belly and back. She’d practically get sucked into the hose and she’d complain louder still when I had to move on to dusting which didn’t much interest her.
And she was a foot flopper: If I stood still long enough, she’d weave in and out and then flop over on top of my feet for belly rubs. If I moved away without giving her the full two-handed massage, then I moved away with tremendous guilt and I knew I’d hear about it later. (I think she had heard Sad Cat Diary. She was, at the very least, one of the contributors.)
Her main follow-me goal, however, was to wait for me to lie down. She was right there. Every time. Catnap, full-on overnight, or days in bed with the flu – it made no difference. She scouted which side she wanted to claim and then nose-dived under the covers, somehow turning around “down there” and burrowing back toward the head of the bed, coming to rest just short of my pillow and instead nuzzling into my armpit with her chin nestled comfortably just above. Now I was her pillow. And this would be my designated position for the remainder of such horizontal time. Prrr and good night. For more than 10 of her 12 years of yesterdays, this was how we slept together. It was how I slept.
She could read me, too, and knew what to do. Was I having a productive day? She’d be in my lap or she’d be on my desk trying to help me type (or edit by un-typing). Was I laughing with the kids? She’d turn into psycho kitty and go whizzing by us at full speed, fly to a sudden squatted stop, glance around with owl ears, and then dash off in another direction, stopping only to chase cat toys that normally collected dust; she was the entertainment. Was I confused and struggling? She’d hang out and talk and weave around me until I remembered to turn on my music for us both. Was I having a particularly rough day? I’d lie down and find her not in the usual armpit formation, but on me, paws over my shoulder, holding me down, body pressed tightly leaning into my tear-stained face so that I could clearly hear her the hum of her prrr: “You stay here until you’re better, okay? I’ve got you covered on this one.”
And then, she had troubles of her own, and they weren’t getting better.
There were so many signs beyond the obvious that she was not well. The other cats had stopped bothering her these past few weeks. Instead, they actually seemed to protect her as she began to hide. And the boys talked with me more. The tabby yowled and would appear in her place when I was horizontal. Our orange boy was even more unsettled, unusually more visible, and had increased his vocabulary and acoustic level considerably. The muted guy had taken to staring me down in the closet having decided to be her daytime guardian; he’d watch over her as they lay close together, nose-to-butt, no longer having sudden squabbles over whose nose to whose butt as she rarely changed positions any more. I slowly began to consider whether they knew what I was desperate not to know.
It was true that bits and bobs of her had been failing in these last few months. She was more wobbly, but she prevailed with this almost sexy cat walk to compensate for her weakening hind quarters. She was getting leaky, but cat diapers exist. (Really, they make cat diapers. Hole for the tail and everything. Who knew?) And still other odd things. Nothing seemed related. Her vet was concerned but “watchful” seemed like the appropriate action plan. She could have years still. That’s what I thought the vet thought. Or, maybe that’s what I hoped my armpit cat thought: years left, right?
Her routine slowed but stayed steady until this last week. She was suddenly more visible even as she was trying so hard not to be. But then I noticed she was done. She just couldn’t keep at it. Systems were failing without reason. With every reason. Just without logical reason. And without concern for me or my girls – as if her humans and her vet had any say at all. We didn’t.
Her body just gave up.
Today, I held her and sobbed as my youngest daughter stroked our cat of the last 10+ years and my oldest talked to her over the phone. Surreal. I’m sure that the whole world heard me screaming, “I’M NOT READY!”; I just hoped that she couldn’t hear me struggle. I was trying to be calm and not worry her, to tell her I loved her, to repeat over and over again how many people adored her and why. And I was trying to fight the urge to beg her to stay forever young. Forever well. I couldn’t do anything but sob and beg and sob and love and sob and calmly talk with her and . . . sob . . . I couldn’t get the damn balance right and I hoped she understood. It was all love. Every bit of what she last heard in this world was love. Garbled and heartfelt and messy and rushed and confused and hurt . . . but love. Lots of love.
And now I cannot understand how I will sleep without her.
This evening my crotch cat (the yowling tabby) is curled between my legs. The orange scaredy cat talked to me earlier, then dove under the bed where no one is supposed to know that he hides. And the guardian spent the latter part of today sitting and staring at the now-empty space in the depths of my closed that his buddy had claimed in her last days.
The boys are making their peace.
My girls are sharing pictures and memories that make us all laugh and then cry and they are baking cookies – which you will soon understand. They are finding ways to grieve.
Me? I can't give her editing rights to random typos anymore. I can’t ever use the moisturizer on my desk. But I’ll never throw it out. Vacuuming will be easier. And harder.
And my armpits will never be warm again.
~ with love for Cookie, my little Siamese chattercat. I had searched the world for you. Who knew you’d find me in Singapore? You helped me through my many sleepless nights and my far too many fearful ones. I suspect you thought perhaps I’d be fine now without you; and that you knew I would always sense your presence in your absence. Every night. Though I miss you, I know you are with me.
Where is death one year later?
The truth is I don’t know.
My nephew died. It’s been a year. Emotionally, it was yesterday. I screamed so loudly and fell to my knees when his brother called that day and said ... I actually cannot recall exactly what he said. Odd how you think you'll never forget. But I simply couldn’t comprehend the words coming through the phone. Nothing made sense. My body knew what my mind refused to know. The impossible. At an impossible age. For impossible reasons.
Danny had died of a seizure. How insane was that? Enough that I couldn’t get off the floor. He couldn’t. I couldn’t. Only now as I write this do I understand why I laid there until they picked me up. I recall feeling puzzled that anyone could move at all.
Time was standing still. But in reality it was only still for him.
Danny died too young. Maybe this is true for everyone – whether they still need a few more hours. Or days. Or years.
Too young. Too soon.
But he died having conquered so many fears. Having lived more than the three decades that declared his true age. Having reached a pinnacle in his career – a career that he defined, that he quite literally wrote the book on.
He had colleagues – older and younger – who were in awe of him and still liked him. He had students that he inspired into majors and careers that they might never have pursued.
Hell, he started a blog before I knew what the word meant or how to find it online or whether it “was safe” to even read one. He owned a website long before everyone claimed a domain name just in case they’d need it later. He was forward thinking about where technology and student journalism would meet.
He traveled around the whole damn world having overcome a fear of flying so severe that most others stay grounded and never know the cultures and dramas beyond their 200-mile radius or outside the politics of their own country. He was terrified and he flew anyway. While the destination was the goal, the need – the craving – to know more was the motivating factor to get him there. So he went.
Maybe he had more places to go and more to give but he managed to get to a “there” that many of us never even know to dream about.
He discovered. He wrote. He lived.
Every minute of his life.
Death, I’ve learned, can bring us closer. Death, I’ve learned can divide us. Unexpectedly.
And coping with death, I’ve learned, is that personal. Danny's death drove many within our family to different ends of despair. I miss him. In that painful, indescribable way. And I also miss many who loved him but who are now no longer in touch. Thankfully, they haven’t died, but they are, sadly, nearly as gone. There is no describing those levels of grief either.
One year later. Danny still hasn’t called me. That’s not unlike him. If you had been related, if you had known him, then you knew: he might not return a call, a text, an email for a year. Maybe more. And because I loved him, because I just knew that he loved me back, I didn’t mind. On any random day, his number might have popped up on my caller ID. “Hey, you?!”, I would have said without a sharp intonation, without a threat of where-the-hell-have-you-been. I would have just proclaimed, “Hey, you?!” as a peace offering of sorts and continued on as if I’d spoken to him last week. We would have chatted and caught up and we would have made plans to see each other. Of course, I would have known that the likelihood of him actually showing up was very small but I would made those plans just the same.
The thing is that now <sigh>, well, it's just ... I see Danny in crowds – impossible. I see him in articles that he is quoted in – forever possible. I see him in random pictures that pop up unexpectedly even though it’s not always him – but dammit, it could have been (and sometimes is). At times, I laugh at his audacity – it’s just like him. At times, I cry at his insensitivity – how could he not know how much his absence hurts my presence?
And, true confession here: I am still certain he will call.
I’m just not surprised he hasn’t.
Not because he’s died. It’s because he’s still Danny. He’ll always be. And so, he may call still – that’s what my heart chooses to believe even as I am certain that I sat with him at the funeral home and looked at his picture over his coffin. Stunned. “Where the hell are you?” I had thought. “So not funny,” I had thought. I’d have been furious if he had jumped out from behind the nonexistent curtain. But I would surely have hugged him hard. And I’d have been afraid to let him go again without making plans that he would keep this time.
That was Danny.
As he will always be.
And that is me. I’ll just let him know this time that I’m pissed he hasn’t called in so long but that I’m glad to have a chance to tell him about his amazing cousins, about what we have all been up to, and then I’ll ask him what he has been doing. He’ll likely reply as he always did, “Not much.”
Not until he died did I really hear about his life.
Talk about serious deflection issues! (I'd like to talk to him about that.)
My phone is ringing now as I try to finish what he started: this blog. That’s the kind of timing he has.
Just in case, I’m ready.
It’s still not him.
Maybe the next call.