The Many Tiny Things

Since Chester’s passing I’ve started listening to an American Public Media podcast called Terrible, Thanks for Asking. My cousin Rachel mentioned on Facebook that she was obsessed with it, so I looked into it. Here’s the description:

 

After the first couple episodes I was unclear about whether it was helpful or harmful to be listening. (I have a tendency to make poor choices about my media consumption when I’m feeling vulnerable.) I kept listening and eventually noticed that the episodes about grief felt like a cold compress on my swollen heart.

In the show I’m halfway through today, a woman named Holly is in day one of widowhood, having lost her husband after a prolonged illness. She shares that in the shower one day, shortly after her husband had become non-responsive, she melted onto the floor crying about not having written down the two recipes that were in his repertoire. He could make two amazing meals and she had no idea what was in either or how to prepare them and therefore could not pass this knowledge on to their son.

She mentions that if she were to share this heartbreak about the lost recipes with a “normal” person, they would think she was crazy. Nora, however, totally gets it and explains that we are all the sum of the many tiny things that make us who we are: our recipes, our jokes, our smiles, our quirks…so of course Holly should cry about those two recipes. That is loss. When we lose someone, we lose the many tiny things.

And that’s it. Regardless of whether we’re grieving an animal companion or a human…we miss the little things. And we miss the biggest thing: the physical presence of that particular body animated by that particular soul.

I walk into my room and miss seeing Chester’s food bowls on my dresser. I open my closet door and expect to see his litter boxes. For weeks after his death, I held a stuffed animal while falling asleep the way I used to hold him. It took me weeks to get rid of the short glass on my bedside table that provided his primary source of water. His pillow with the soft purple blanket still resides on the bed next to my pillow (though it was weeks before I could bring myself to wash it).

The Costco trips have slowed almost to a stop because I no longer buy a rotisserie chicken for him every week. When I pass the pet food store, I have to override the muscle memory that would turn my car into the parking lot to get him more of the protein and gravy pouches he loved.

Yesterday I took a short nap and my friend’s cat perched on me for a few minutes and purred. Tears ran down my face and into my ears because I was reminded how much I miss having a purring Chester lying on my body like an extra appendage.

And that’s grief, right?

I miss his smell, I miss burying my face in his chest, I miss the way he lounged atop my body like it was as much his as mine, I miss his voice (both his regular meow and the gruffy meow-yell it became near the end of his life), I miss the softness of his fur, and I miss the way he could become a kitten in the blink of an eye and start chasing his tail.

As Nora said, it’s the million tiny things that we lose.

But what can never be lost is the love.

 

The Catch-Me-If-You-Can Workout by Chester!

From the moment I brought him home, Chester was a great companion for Beautiful White Princess. They were fast friends and their temperaments complemented each other well. One time I even saw them curled up on the bed together!

I bonded with Princess by brushing her perfect long hair and telling her stories of her beauty—of how it was legendary far and wide. She tucked me in every night by lying on top of me, her face inches from mine, and letting me scratch her cheeks and head while she purred and kneaded my chest and licked the sheets beneath my chin.

I bonded with Chester by chasing him through the hallways of my apartment building—a game he invented for us. I lived in a front second-floor unit of a small three-story building with basement. One night Chester was pawing at the door asking to go out. Being the sucker I am, I let him out to explore the hallway. (Princess had done this in my previous apartment building but she never went more than about 25 feet.) Instead, he disappeared into the front stairwell and was gone—like totally and completely gone in an instant. Like Harry Potter disapparating kind of gone.

Screenshot-2018-4-5 59 Ogden St Denver, CO 80218

This is what the hallways look like now (since being renovated).

I laughed and guessed he’d gone up a floor, so up I ran. No cat. Hmm. Down a floor. No cat. Down another floor. Ha! There he was, sitting in the middle of the hallway staring boredly as if he’d been waiting for hours. As I ran toward him laughing, he turned and sprinted into the back stairwell. This time I saw that he’d gone up. As I was more than halfway to the back stairwell, I increased speed and followed him up. But did he go one or two levels? A quick stop on two revealed no cat. I ran up to three and there he was in the middle of the hallway again, bored and watching me. By this point I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe–his nonchalance was killing me! As you can imagine, as I started to approach him he turned tail and sprinted into the front stairwell again. How the EFF was I going to catch this cat?!

I don’t remember how the game finally concluded (any of the times we played it). I might have had to shut front and back stairwell doors strategically to be able to trap him. Or maybe he finally just let me catch up to him. That game cracked me up—every time—and we played it almost nightly. I had already known he was magical at understanding what I was saying to him and now I knew he was faster than the speed of light. He was a trickster with a dry mischievousness.

We played that game for many months until I came home to a note on my door from the apartment manager. She said she’d received complaints from a neighbor who was deathly allergic to cats that my cat had been spotted in the hallway on numerous occasions. So as not to kill this neighbor, I was expected to keep my cat in my apartment at all times.

Dumb.

whatever-smiley

I would need to think of a way to give Chester more opportunities to run and play and change altitudes within my apartment…

Eventually I would land upon the brilliant idea of building him a cat tower.

How I Became Chester’s (cont.)

Did I leave you hanging with that last post? Yes. Yes I did.

Lemme guess: You’re thinking, “Okay, so you have a healthy cat at home (in your one-bedroom apartment) and a (potentially chronically) sick cat in your car. What’s the plan now?”

pickle

Indeed I was in a pickle. I had rescued this guy by hook and by crook, but I hadn’t expected he would be ill.

We headed first to a veterinary clinic. (I’m starting to think I adopted him on a Monday because I remember taking him straight to the vet and most vets are closed on Sundays. Perhaps the security guard backdated the adoption paperwork?)

According to my records I took him to Washington Park Veterinary Clinic, a place I’d never been. (I would have sworn I took him to Firehouse Animal Hospital—this is starting to freak me out. Why can’t I remember my own life?!) The staff was incredibly understanding and didn’t even charge me for the exam. They drew blood to test him for FIV and leukemia and sent me to the lobby to wait for the results.

While waiting, my mind was flooded with worry about what I’d do if he was found to have a chronic communicable disease. The Ragdoll had tested positive so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that he might also.

When the tech came out and told me that he was absolutely fine except for a terrible case of kennel cough, I remember trying to choke back tears of relief (which I’m fairly certain I failed at). The amount of emotion I felt was overwhelming and caught me completely off guard. What sway this cat had over me already!

I was given a liquid antibiotic for his kennel cough and I was told he’d be okay to be around other cats in 7 to 10 days.

With tears streaming down my face I explained to him in the car that he was going to be just fine once we cleared him of his nasty cold.

But…now what?

next move

I couldn’t take him home for risk of exposing Princess to kennel cough. I couldn’t take him to Rebecca’s because of her two cats. Who did I know who didn’t have any animals and might love me enough to care for my sick cat?

Katie!

Despite her cat allergy, Katie readily agreed to take him in and care for him for the 7 to 10 days it would take him to recover. So off we drove to her tiny one-bedroom apartment in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

What a strange experience for this cat! To be adopted by one person but then taken to stay with someone else for the first week. I told him about Princess and about how excited she would be to meet him… “But I can’t risk you getting her sick the way some other animal in the shelter got you sick. So we’re going to Katie’s house. She’s my best friend and you will love her; everyone loves her—she’s delightful. But maybe don’t love her too much, okay? I’ll be over to visit as often as I can. Your only job is to rest and to heal. We’re going to have a great life together—you, Princess, and me. You’re going to start feeling better really soon. Katie is going to give you a medicine that will help you be able to breathe easier and open your eyes wider and not be such a sneezy-head.”

And so it went. This sweet man started to be called Chester and he recuperated in Katie’s apartment. She subsisted on Benadryl while sharing her bed with this cuddly, swollen-faced cat who sneezed a lot. She will forever have my undying gratitude. ♥

043007 messy table

Chester many years later with Miranda, who clearly adored him (as did all the ladies).

How I Became Chester’s

At the age of 26 I had just moved into a one-bedroom apartment with my four-year-old cat, Beautiful White Princess. I had a new job and was spending time with my girlfriend, Rebecca, so Princess was often alone…and seemed lonely.

BWP2

Beautiful White Princess in Repose

I decided she would be happier if she had a friend, so Rebecca and I went to the Adams County Animal Control Center to find her a cat. For the life of me I cannot recall why it was so specifically THAT place…but given that it was a long drive to get there, I know it was intentional.

To get to the cats, we first had to walk down THE LONGEST CORRIDOR EVER of dogs. Behind the chain-link fencing of their cage fronts they barked, jumped, smiled, or danced—so excited to see people who might take them home. This was traumatic for both of us because we knew we couldn’t help any of them, so we averted our eyes (with only moderate success) and walked like speed racers.

Three of the cat room’s four walls were comprised of perfect rows and columns of individual metal cages, each with a tiny litter box and a bowl of water. There were little cat faces surrounding us from low to high like a feline version of The Hollywood Squares.

cat cage walls

My mom had gravely and adamantly warned me away from selecting a male cat because of…reasons I can’t quite recall (but likely pertained to the possibility of spraying). Whatever she’d said, likely multiple times, had influenced me enough that I was only open to adopting a female.

The first one to capture my attention was a tiny Ragdoll who clearly was not well—her eyes and nose were runny and she seemed to feel puny. She was sweet as could be, pure fluff with only the tiniest body hidden under so much long fur. Perhaps because her need seemed the most dire, I decided uncharacteristically swiftly that she would be my new cat.

Also of note was an orange tabby who was putting on a huge show by meowing and purring, rubbing his face all over the front of the cage, and sticking his little paws out in an effort to grab us. He was so freaking cute…but unfortunately male.

I told the staff member I wanted the Ragdoll and was told that because she was ill, she would need to be tested before they could release her. I left empty handed, waiting impatiently for the phone call that would tell me she was okay.

When it finally came later that evening, the news was devastating: She had tested positive for either FIV or feline leukemia (or both) and would be euthanized per shelter procedure. I grieved a cat who had been mine only in my imagination—such a beautiful sweet tiny creature!

And still I needed a cat for my cat.

The next day was Sunday and my only chance to return to the shelter until the next weekend—and I didn’t want to wait that long. Rebecca couldn’t go with me but also didn’t need to: “If he’s still there, get the orange tabby—the guy who was rubbing his face all over the cage and reaching his paws out. He’s been on my mind since we left the shelter. No matter what else I might be thinking about, his face pops into my mind. He’s the one.”

“But he’s a boy!” I protested.

“I know, but apparently he wants to be your boy.”

I didn’t question Rebecca’s intuition; I had taken her with me for a reason and I trusted that if she felt so strongly about one of the cats, I couldn’t go wrong to follow her guidance. She had two gorgeous sister tuxedo cats, Miranda and Alexa, and I greatly respected her knowledge of and connection to felines.

I made the long drive back to the shelter, marched to the front door with my cat carrier, and was confused when the door wouldn’t open. I peered through to a darkened lobby and noticed a Closed sign hanging on the door.

Closed

“Wait, what? How could it be closed?! There are animals in there who need homes!” I was swept up in emotion, mostly frustration and mild panic. What if my cat gets adopted before I can come back? What if he isn’t even here now?

Right then a security guard unlocked and opened the door. It’s possible I was crying, or at the very least looked incredibly pathetic, because he asked if I was okay. I explained that I’d tried to rescue a Ragdoll the day before but that she’d been found to be ill and had to be euthanized so I was here to get the orange tabby (sniffle sniffle wipe tears sniffle). “I drove a long way and this is my only day off this week and I’m just here to pick up the orange tabby.”

He was incredibly sweet and obviously cared about animals because he said, “Well, I don’t work directly for the shelter but I’ve been around here long enough to know the process. Come on in, I think we can get you your cat.”

The guard walked me down the long dog corridor and hollered for someone once we got to the end. It was a different experience this time because all the lights were dimmed—like during a power outage when only the emergency lights are functioning. A young man with Down Syndrome appeared and walked me to where the cats were.

Although a room different from before, I beelined directly to the orange tabby who was, as before, meowing and rubbing his face all over the bars of the cage and reaching out with his paws.

And then he sneezed.

F#@k!

And then he sneezed again.

Noooooo!!!!

The shelter worker didn’t seem to notice or care about the sneezing as he opened the cage, grabbed the cat, and transferred him to my hard-sided carrier. Then he left the room to continue with his normal duties.

I leaned over and looked intently into the cat’s eyes, which were only tiny slits because his face was so puffy. I said slowly and clearly, “Rebecca delivered your message to me, so I’m here to take you home. Here’s the deal, though: They are not supposed to let me have you if you’re sick. And obviously you are sick. I need you to do everything you can to NOT SNEEZE in front of the security guard.”

During the entire walk along the dog corridor I spoke insistently and repetitively above the barking: “There’s only one thing I need you to do: You cannot sneeze in front of the man. You must be totally quiet. I’ll get us out of here as fast as possible. Your only job is to be silent.”

I must have told him 50 different ways that silence was imperative in front of the nice man.

When we got back to the lobby, the guard was waiting with a clipboard of paperwork for me. I set the carrier on a bench near the door—as far away as I could without drawing suspicion—and then stood at the counter writing as fast as I could on form after form. I paid $8.00, made sure all was good with the guard, thanked him profusely, and then exited as quickly as I could without breaking into a run.

Upon reaching my car I placed the carrier on the passenger seat, shut my door, and:

SNEEZE!

SNEEZE! SNEEZE!

SNEEZE! SNEEZE! SNEEZE!

For the next five minutes he sneezed nonstop.

Clearly this guy was something special.

ChesteronBed