La la how life goes on

1 10 2012

Funny how the disappearance of someone you hadn’t seen in 20 years, might not have seen in 20 more, can nonetheless knock you sideways.

I don’t know if I would have seen Chris again, but I took for granted that I could: the possibility was always there that I’d run into her back in a Wisconsin bar, buy John and her a beer, and catch up on the lifetime or two since we’d seen each other last.

Now I know that will never happen.

Chris is not the first person around my age who’s died—an old boyfriend died in a car crash half a lifetime ago, another guy who I partied with in high school was killed in a snowmobile accident—but she’s the first one who I know who died for health reasons. Her death in an accident would have been shocking and sad, but that she died because her body gave out is. . . well, I was going to say incomprehensible, but, really, stunning precisely because it is so comprehensible: this is, in the end, what will likely happen to me and everyone I know.

Are you more prepared in your sixties for this? In your seventies and eighties? Not that you get used to it, the disappearance of people, but is it less shocking? Is it worse for being less shocking?

Chris’s death has meant a peg has been kicked out and away from my own sense of self; I left a bit off-kilter, for she has carried a piece of me away with her.

And that’s how it is, I guess. I mourn the loss of her, mourn the loss of the possibility of her, and mourn the loss of myself, in her.

I can scarcely imagine what her family and close friends are going through, to lose someone so central to them, so central to who they are; they have lost Chris and thus are themselves lost.

So in their grief, through their grief, they’ll try to find their way back, without her.





Bean-a-lee-a-lea, Bean-a-lee-a-lou. . . .

31 07 2010

Bean loved to do two things, eat, and:

Sleep

And sleep some more

She slept on the floor, on rugs, in chairs, on tables, on my desk, in my closet, and, of course, in bed:

Whaddya mean, move?

As Chelsea and Bean got older, I set a low chest near the bed to make it easier for them to get up and down. In one apartment, however, I didn’t have room for the chest, so set this stool next to the bed, instead:

Chelsea would step lightly up, but Bean never quite mastered that. Instead, she’d climb partly on to the lower step, then stick her paw into the notch on top and haul herself up and over; made me smile every time. Shoulda gotten a shot of that.

When I had a proper kitchen set-up—i.e., a table and chairs—Bean liked to jump into the chair. She then expected me to tip it back and rub her belly. She’d squeak and squeak until I’d stop, then look at me like ‘You’re stopping? Is there a problem?’

Even without the tip-and-rub, however, she liked to reign from the chair.

This became a point of contention between her and Jasper, as he, too, liked to loll on the chair. Bean would chase him off if he dared slip on to her perch, but at some point this past winter, she ceded the spot to him. It was a concession both sad and inevitable.

Still, she never gave in fully to Jasper, never let him get too familiar. Tolerance, however, she could do.

Early detente

I did see them sleeping together—actually touching—once or twice, but Jasper could never get the hang of how to hang without chomping on Bean. And then he wondered why she wanted nothing to do with him.

Chelsea was the same way, initially, with Bean, although because they were much closer in age, they had more time together to learn how to live together.

Unfathomable in the early years, constant later on

Chelsea, as I may have mentioned, was a marvelous jumper, able to leap from the floor to the top of five-foot bookshelves with little more preparation than a look and a butt-wriggle. This was how she most often escaped the Bean-kitten, as the young Bean had neither the strength nor, frankly, the chops, to follow her.

But oh, how Bean tried. One night, when my roommate P. and I were sitting on the couch, Bean chased Chelsea down the hall and into the living room. Chelsea skipped on to the nearby desk, then hopped on to the bookshelves.

Bean, determined to follow, didn’t bother first scrawling up the couch to get to the desk (a board slung across two file cabinets), and instead tried to conquer the desk in one leap.

She managed to get half her tiny body up, but her back didn’t quite make it. She bicycled her back legs, to no avail, and her front half slowly slid back off, until all that remained on top were her paws, the claws dug into the plywood.

She hung there for a moment, her little body swinging, before she finally let go.

Bean never attained the grace so natural to Chelsea, but she had her own dignity.

And she was sweet and lovable, who pipped and squeaked and purred and purred and purred.

Bean was a good cat. I don’t know if there’s anything after life in this world, but if there is, I hope she and Chelsea are together.

They were good cats.

If there is something else, I hope they’re happy.





you have done well it’s time to rest

29 07 2010

My beautiful Bean is gone.

Beanalea 1994-2010

Her name was inspired by a Jane Siberry song, ‘Everything Reminds Me of My Dog': She has a line about Old folks remind me of my dog/My dog reminds old folks of their dogs (Barfy, Ruffo, Beanhead). . . . Bean! That’s it.

Chelsea had been driving my roommate and me crazy with her constant talk, so I thought another cat might help chill her out. I was in Minneapolis at the time, a couple of houses down from friends, and they went with me to the Humane Society to get a kitten.

We saw one group of kittens, then went into another room (the sick cat room, it turns out) for more. I had the name; I needed the cat to fit.

J., the driver, held up a long-haired black-and-white kitten and said ‘Get her! Get her!’ I didn’t want a long-hair, however, and demurred. (I did coerce convince J. to get that kitty herself; ‘Entropy’, she was named. Aptly.)

And then I found my Bean—full name, Beanalea—and took her home. She lived with Chelsea and me in three apartments in Minneapolis, one in Montreal, one in Somerville, and five in Brooklyn. She didn’t particularly like travelling, but she always settled in once we had, in fact, settled in.

Bean, Beanalea, Bean-goddammit (for a brief period when she was around 6 months), Binkins, Polar Bean, Lima Bean, Navy Bean, Gah-bahnzo Bean. . . she was my Bean.

My beautiful Bean.





I’m watching my sweet mama from my vigil on this chair

5 07 2010

It’s almost time.

She’s been fading, fading, for months; I wasn’t sure she’d make it this long. But we are nearing the end.

I see her hunched-up walk and my breath catches in my throat. I scoop her up and hold her against my chest and tuck my chin into her fur and whisper No, not yet! I’m not ready.

And I set her back down and she walks fine and it’s clear that she’s not ready yet, either.

But it’s coming, and when she’s ready I’ll have to be, too.

Even if I’m not.

My beautiful Bean. . . !





The lion sleeps tonight: one year later

2 05 2010

Chelsea. It’s a year to the day.

1991-2009

The mourning has not gone well. I’ve grieved, and not. I’ve handled it, and not.

I can think of her without tears, but only rarely; because of this, I only rarely think of her.

She does help me with Bean, in trying to do better in recognizing and responding to her needs. I’m patient with Bean in a way I was not always with Chelsea.

I couldn’t see that she was dying, couldn’t see her.

I still can’t, in so many ways.

My sweet Chelsea still has something more to teach me. Perhaps by next year, I can finally let her rest.





I watch you sleeping on the bed

9 03 2010

My beautiful Bean is sick.

Not desperately so, and perhaps not-imminently-fatally so, but she is ill, and it likely that this illness will at some point result in her death.

It pains me to say this, because I do not want my sweet old kitten to die, but I cannot ignore her decline.

Cannot. Will not.

I did ignore what was happening to Chelsea. It’s so clear, in retrospect, that she was sick for years, dying for months, and almost gone by the time I saw that gone was the best place for her. I spent money I didn’t have on a delusion that at 18 what little life she had in her was enough for a few more years.

It made the ending harder than it had to be for both of us.

So I won’t do that with Bean. I will see her, as she is, an old and sick cat. Oh, I’m doing what I can, within reason, to slow that decline, but at 15 1/2, ‘within reason’ amounts to home care and wishes.

Whether that decline is weeks or months or even a year, I have no idea.

But I’ll be ready, or readier, this time. Chelsea taught me that. Wishes or no, I have to see Bean clear.





What shall we use to fill the empty spaces?

3 11 2009

Things will be different this winter.

Hard.

Not the weather—sleeping. Without Chelsea.

You see, Chelsea was incredibly fucking annoying to sleep with once the weather turned cold.

She’d jump up on the bed (not annoying), walk over my body or head (slightly annoying), then sit near my shoulder (not annoying).

Waiting.

Waiting for me to lift the covers that she perfectly well could have burrowed under herself—but no, Herself had wait for me to lift the covers.

If I didn’t immediately do so upon her arrival near my shoulder, she’d make a few pigeon noises (low coos), then again, at a slightly higher volume.

Still nothing? She’d paw at the blankets, lightly at first, then with some vigor.

Still nothing? The paw to the nose. And if still no reaction, she’d push out her claws ever so slightly and softly—no scratches, no marks—rake them across my cheek and nose.

At which point I’d lift my arm and create a proper entrance for La Chelsea.

This is not the really fucking annoying part.  No, what was r.f.a. was her pause.

Yes, after all that, she’d take a step, then pause for a few seconds, as if wondering Hm, do I really want to go under the covers after all? before deigning to duck down and under.

Jesus, she had me so well trained.

Then, of course, she’d turn around and around and around before settling into the same damned spot she always did, curled into my belly as I lay on my side, wrapping herself into a warm ball of purr.

That, I admit, was never annoying.





Yesterday’s a day away

7 09 2009

It’s about time.

All those boxes of files, the folders full of print outs of journal articles, cut-outs from newspapers, clippings from The New Yorker and The Nation, transcripts from The NewsHour (and before, the MacNeill/Lehrer NewsHour), Gina Kolata and Elizabeth Farnsworth and Lawrence Wright. Time to go.

Start easy: start with the ‘Media/Polls’ box. There’s only one of those, and you know you want to get rid of those, right? You haven’t looked at its contents in six years, not since you left Montreal, not since you threw a shovelful of dirt over the remains of your academic career and lit out for your life.

One box, shouldn’t take long. One less to cart to wherever it is you’ll go next. And it’s on your list.

The first folder: ‘Media–to be filed’. What? I thought these were mostly polls, old and outdated and easily disposed of, save for pulling out the staples or off the binder clips and reshuffling the paper for reuse as the back end of lecture notes. Gallup and Roper and whatnot.

But here’s a piece by Sallie Tisdale, and another by Annie Dillard and another by an old colleague, Carl Elliott. Carefully annotated with publication date, volume, number. Haven’t read any of these likely since I yanked them out of Harper’s and The Atlantic 7, 8, 12 years ago.

Next up: Cloning. All the Times‘ pieces, the television transcripts. Here are a few pieces by Leon Kass, my Pilot-penned scrawls arguing with him in the margins.

Here is the stillborn promise of books never to be written, articles never to be submitted. Here is my dead career, never carefully tended, finally abandoned to die, mummified in filed slices.

And my career as an academic is dead, no question about it. Oh, I stroll through the cemetery regularly as an adjunct, but ‘adjunct’ is just another term for dead-end job.

I know this. I know this. I knew what I was doing six years ago, even if I didn’t know the consequences of what I was doing, even if I had no idea what I was doing. Still, I knew that the slow climb from assistant to associate to full professor was not for me, that I would not end an emeritus.

Even now that I know the consequences, I can’t say I was wrong to have dropped off the tenure track. Sure, I might even have managed the climb, secured myself in some out-of-the-way department somewhere, but it wouldn’t have been my life. A role, only.

It will be good for me, finally, to have finished with these files, to have disarticulated the stories and narratives within. But I know they meant something, once, that they mattered, once, and it grieves me to put it all behind me.

I will feel lighter, when I am done, however heavy I feel now.

Lighter, yes.





Pass in time

31 08 2009

It’s been almost 4 months.

I teared up when I typed that.

You see, while I can talk about her life, I cannot talk about her death without tears.

I know she’s no longer here, but it is an outer knowledge, something I keep away from me.

I have to make room for her, all of her, in me. Life and death and everything.

If I want to be able to remember without tears, then I have to bring her back in, even with the tears.

‘Just a cat’, I know.

But oh, how I miss that cat!





Playmate, come out and play with me

19 06 2009

There will be no porn in this post. It’s about cats (NOT pussies). Got it?

It’s been about 2 months since Chelsea died, and while I think about getting a kitten, it’s more an abstract than real thought.

I have almost a week off between summer teaching sessions at the beginning of July, and toyed with the idea of getting a kitten then. I’ll be home; I’ll have time; I’ll be able to referee between kitten and Bean.

But I’m not ready. And I don’t know if Bean is ready.

Bean has never been an ‘only’ cat. Sweet Pea was three years old when I picked up the second legume, and thus grew up living with another cat and me. Now the other cat is gone and Bean is, I dunno, fine and needy and lonely but really, mostly fine.

She gets a lot of attention from me, which she doesn’t seem to mind. We’ve established a new routine, just the two of us, and it seems to be working. I think she gets a little bored being the only one of her kind around here, but, you know: projecting, anthropomorphizing, etc.

I know she’d hate the kitten. Hate it. Hissing and backing away and hissing some more and batting at the tiny critter whenever it came near.

It’s what Chelsea did to her.

But Chelsea and Bean also curled up together and tussled and chased each other and double-teamed me when they heard me crack open a can of wet cat food. That day I took Chelsea to the vet, I leaned her over Bean, to let Bean sniff her, one last time. Bean licked her head.

Instinct? Habit? I don’t know. It felt like good bye.

And, as I told lesleykim in a comment to another post, as hard as it was coming home without Chelsea, I don’t know that I could have handled coming home to a feline-less apartment.

So I want a kitten for Bean, and for me. Just not yet.








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