Saturday, May 3, 2008

Happy Birthday, Lexi




My calendar tells me that you are 13 years old sometime in early May. I marked the day as the 2nd, based on what the little boys showing you with the other kittens in the box said about your age that day I first saw you. They had you and your litter mates there in the sun on the grassy quad across from the Oregon State Capitol. The boys' mother worked in another office in the same building I did and scheduled you there at lunch time to tempt us. A co-worker urged me to go outside to look at you kittens. She knew I was having a hard time that week for one reason or another (God, how I hated that job), so my glimpse of you would provide some joy, she thought.

I lived in that great condo (remember the circular stairs going to the loft in the bedroom and the squirrels mocking you from the big oaks outside the deck?). Dear-hearted Bleecker, that favorite orange-and-white cat, and I were soon to welcome Mike as a legal member of the household. Since Bleecker was perfect (he was!) we felt no need for another cat, but he had asked for his own kitty by flirting with the neighbor's cats from the kitchen garden window. Because I loved him so I decided to take a look at the kittens in the box outside my office building that day. Your tabby markings were gorgeous, you seemed great, the boys said you "talked" a lot in their garage, we arranged for me to get you at 5:00 p.m. sharp, and I realized in the car that you were full of fleas so -- thoughtful daughter that I was -- I drove you to my mother's house for a bath in her big laundry room tub. Mike met us there and we "bonded" with you by dousing you with suds and water, and by scraping you with a flea comb until we were sure that you were free of fleas and, therefore, worthy of being presented to Bleecker that evening. Your tabby fur shone and we'd already nicknamed you "Ballhead" because of your round, solid skull.

You were not a match, you and Bleecker. Instead of being his dream come true, Lexi, you took advantage of his gentleness and overpowered him at play time. You scratched Bleecker's chin so badly that the vet said you could give him something called tomcat's chin. Still, I couldn't give up on you and I convinced Mike to give training a chance. In time, you did cease the battle moves and tried really hard to be good. You and Bleecker settled into a truce, of sorts, and when we brought Feather home from the animal shelter to join you two having a third spoke in the wheel made it all lopsided enough that no one was dominant.

You loved us. You kissed us. And kissed us. And licked until we couldn't take your rough tongue one minute longer, and it became a game of kiss-and-hide. You were weirder than weird, jumping behind the washing machine and believing yourself to be trapped forever without giving yourself credit for being able to get out of what you'd got into. Howling. Waiting for Mike to contort himself to "save" you, and your payment was a wildcat scratch laid across the meat of his thumb, opening it nearly to the bone. Still, we hung in there with you. You were family, after all.

After three years we bought our house and moved from the condo (your clawing the linoleum squares by the kitchen door, leaving a scored pattern that in no way resembled the design, cinched that we would not receive the cleaning/pet deposit back). Surely, having more room would mean each of us could settle in happily and all would be well. But you did not appreciate the change and loudly vocalized your fear and concern while Bleecker and Feather seemed enchanted with everything about the house. We got a new area carpet for the bedroom's wood floors and you peed on it. I scolded you sternly and had the carpet cleaned.

It is at this point in your story I lose track of an actual time frame. I don't remember if it was weeks or a few months that you lived here with us, Lexi. Long enough to have a tag with your name at this address. Long enough for us to truly worry about what to do about your unhappiness (and ours).

Where I reconnect with time is that day when we planted the two birch and one aspen -- sapplings then, now taller than the house -- in the front yard. My mother (remember we called her Mama?) was there. Her health had waned, that diagnosis of congestive heart failure not discussed but acknowledged by our actions when we set a chair in the sun for her to be warm as she watched the planting. She'd been mourning the most difficult loss of her old dog, Tippy, a sorrow made deeper because there would be no more pets . . .

How did we come to put you in her lap that day, for her to hold tight so you wouldn't get away and where, instead, you settled sweetly and began to kiss her arm? I said that will drive you crazy, just take your arm away and Mama said I wouldn't hurt her feelings like that, and so you licked. And so you went home with her.

As Mama grew thinner, you grew fatter. You competed with one another for most talkative family member, a sassy banter that made her shake her head and laugh. You were always with her, sleeping in her lap and on her bed, licking the hand that never pulled away. She bought you a pink halter and leash (pink?) thinking you could be trained to walk in the backyard. You deserved to know the sun, she thought, but she couldn't bear to let you outside free. You really didn't take to the leash stuff, preferring to remain inside (where you never failed to use your litter box as you had at our house).

She'd grown to love you, Lexi, she the dog-person who had always claimed not to understand cats. And how you did love her. When an ambulance took her away one scary afternoon when Mike and I were at work you jumped into the windowsill in the front window and watched her go away. The neighbor across the street saw you do that. So she decided to check to see how long you might stay. You sat there for the remainder of that day and into the night until we came to feed you at a very late hour.

When she came home and seemed to get better you probably thought that she'd never leave you. For almost two years you wore the new tag with your name and Mama's address, where, after her doctor said lung cancer, Mike and I saw lots more of you until in the last weeks one or the other of us was always there.

There is a mortician in a small town in Oregon who must still tell the story of the cat who remained faithful to her owner even after death. He told us that he'd seen dogs do that, stay with their beloved's body, but never a cat. When Mike and I woke at 5:30 that morning in Mama's bedroom (at exactly the same moment), he on the twin bed at one side of Mama's hospital bed and I in the recliner on the other side, we knew that she had just passed away. It brought us peace but for you, Lexi, there was something else and I can't pretend to know the depths of what it was. While we made phone calls and arranged for the mortician to come in five hours, turned off the oxygen machine and aired the rooms to clear out the scent of morphine, cleansed my mother's body and arranged her final outfit, lit candles and incense, sustained ourselves with something to eat, you stayed in her room. When the flutter of activity there ceased you settled down on her bed next to her. No more licking, no more talking, just being a tabby Buddha, just being. With her until the two from the funeral home came into the bedroom and began to take her away.

You stayed at her house for the weeks we organized, until the packing began that would be too alarming for you. Then we brought you back here to our house to rejoin our family. You had familiar things from Mama's house and you remembered Bleecker and Feather. You didn't really seem to mind the addition of our dog. But you isolated yourself from all of us and you peed on our couch. Your mourning added to our mourning was just too much for all of us. To this day I have things, just things, of hers cluttering the rooms upstairs, still in boxes and in a storage unit. I've even written in my blog about my need now to remove this clutter, Lexi. But you were not frustrating clutter that could be put in a corner and ignored. You were family. I had fresh experience with letting go, which made having to let go of you easier. It's what you do for someone you love who has an opportunity for something better, the next step.

You, Lexi, were famous with the hospice crowd and Mama's former hospice nurse now told them of your new predicament. Wasn't it amazing how Anne, who led the nursing department, and her husband, Frank, decided to take you sight-unseen, based only on the story of your loyalty? So, you sat in my lap at the front upper-story window -- purring and licking my hand -- as we watched for their car. I knew it was a special moment for us, not a typical one, and I remained strong when they came and we introduced them to you. Anne said it was alright if I called to see how you were doing.

Well, you certainly had a momentous first two days with Anne and Frank. She told of how you clawed your way through the outside lining of an inner-spring mattress and hid, and how he tenderly freed you from your metal coil perch after cutting a good portion of the backing away to get to you. That they were not mad at you, that they understood all you'd been through and were going to give you time and love until you had trust made me love them for you before you loved them.

About a half-year passed when I got a call from Anne saying that they were moving to Georgia because Frank had a promotion there. I asked if you were going with them and she answered Yes! Of course! She said I could come to say goodbye to you, Lexi, and we decided upon a time. Just as Anne was answering the door she had a phone call, so she motioned me inside to the foyer and pointed to a cinnamon-colored couch where I could sit. She went into another room for her call. I sat there looking around the house, beautiful house, that you'd soon be leaving and I was feeling so sad thinking that you wouldn't be nearby just to know you were ... nearby. Then I heard a jingle and you came trotting into the room, belly swaying, jeweled collar jingling then suddenly the sound stopped as you stopped in your tracks and looked at me as if to say Oh No, What Are You Doing Here! I called your name but you just stood frozen looking at me as memories whirled in your brain and you probably tried to process what my presence in your house could possibly mean. Whew, Anne was off the phone and she came to you and picked you up and the three of us sat on the couch for a short while. You started licking her arm and she raised it out of reach, telling me that Frank allowed the kisses but they were too rough for her.

It was time for me to go. Anne let me kiss you on top of your ball head, and as I was walking to the door she pointed to your carrier bought especially for the drive across the country. It was - pink. Her parting words to me were: Thank you for Lexi.

About a year later I got Anne's email address from the hospice office and wrote to see how you were. She let you write back to me, quite a long and newsy message it was. Oh, how happy you were and fat as ever. Georgia was a good place, you three were each in a good place in your lives.

10 comments:

Freda said...

More than a birthday present - a real tribute. Thank you.

Lydia said...

Freda,
I'm glad you saw the tribute to Lexi in my words. Since you are such a friend to animals that's meaningful for me.
Lydia

newzoopoet said...

Lydia,
I stopped by to thank you for your kind words on my blog (and for reading my poem!) and got caught up in the beauty of Lexi's story. It made the day for this mom of five felines.
Angela

Lydia said...

Angela,
I'm so pleased that you connected with Lexi's story. The need to write about her has been brewing inside me for years.
I'm looking forward to reading more of your fantastic poems.
Lydia

francessa said...

Hi Lydia,

I just came by to thank you for your comment on my blog and found this wonderful story! Thank you!

deus ex machina said...

very heartwarming. . .reading through it reminds me of the three kittens purring to each other under grandma's coffin more than a year ago in her wake. They were the kittens born of my grandma's cat during her last days with us.

Thank you for this post Lydia. Thank you for your wisdom for your encouragement. Thank you for being with me in my blog. I'll promise to read your entries whenever I'm free.

Dex

Lydia said...

Dex,
We have connected, you and I. My admiration for your writing and support for your Bar review and then the Bar will not cease.
Lydia

Lydia said...

Francessa,
It's such a treat to read your blog and to get to know you!
Lydia

Jackie Morris said...

I do so love the power of cats

Lydia said...

Jackie~ Agreeing 100%. Thank you for your visit. ^^

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