Thursday, April 16, 2009

RIP Gracie: 1999 - April 15, 2009

I never knew her birthday! I got her when she was half-grown from my neighbors at an apartment complex in Austin. One day they'd left their front door open for a while, and she came on in and sat down on their couch and just looked at them calmly. They decided to keep her, but then unfortunately, she started terrorizing their other cat, which they didn't think was fair. (Bad girl!) And since she'd already been hopping over from their balcony to mine to explore MY apartment, they wondered if I wanted her... Of course I did!! The early pictures I took of her are back home in my photo-albums (the old-fashioned kind), so I can't reproduce them here now, but I remember scenes of her burrowing into my dresser-drawers and poking her head out from under underwear; then, later, at my house, jumping on top of one of my stereo speakers to pose prettily next to the framed Joan Crawford poster I had up on my wall...

The three shots below are of her in Weehawken. September '07 and two from May '08. (I feel sad that she didn't live long enough to see one more spring, to be strong enough to jump up and sit in an open window and feel warm sunshine and fresh air on her fur just one more time...)

She was a good cat, not a complainer, but I think she missed being able to go outside. Back in Austin, she was an indoor/outdoor cat. I'd let her out in the morning when I'd go to work, then she'd be waiting on the front porch for me when I got home. She'd come inside and eat, hang out for a while, then ask to be let out again. In the evenings she'd ask to be in and out several times, then would come in and sleep with me at night.

Here in NYC, then Joisey, in the 4 places I've lived in 2 years, she was: (1) 5 months: Trapped indoors, surrounded by 6 or 7 other cats, several aggressive. She barely could leave my room. (2) 6 weeks: Trapped indoors, but felt free to roam the apartment, since the only other beast there was an old basset hound who couldn't see very well. (3) 5 months: No other pets in the house, but a drug-addled, manic roommate who kept grabbing at her, even when she was under my bed, asking, "Why doesn't she like me?" She did get to go out in the garden a few times, though, but only when I was there to watch her. (4) 1 year, 1-1/2 months: My current apartment. All to herself. Big and airy, with nice windows to look out of and birds and squirrels to watch... but only watch. It's an upstairs apt., and I couldn't ever let her out to play and explore.

I always thought she'd live to be 17. For some reason, "17" stands out as what I thought. Maybe because I've known 3 cats who have lived to be that old. And Grace was always very healthy and rambunctious. When she first got sick, I'd tell her, "Just give me 7 more years, honey. I'll get you a yard, I promise." I think probably the stress of all the moves in the past 2 years, and the inability to go out, did indeed shorten her life by years. But, like I said, she very rarely complained about anything. (Except, over the years, getting in her carrier to go to the vet. Jesus! The trauma of having to chase her over the whole house and scoop her up from under beds and couches and then having to practically stuff her into the carrier! I dreaded vet visits!) She was good on the plane to New York (and at the airport, when personnel had to take her out of the carrier to check for hidden explosives or whatever!); she dealt as well as possible with the hostile cats and the druggy roomie; she wouldn't cry to go outside once we moved to my current place. She was always very calm about whatever crazy situation I'd thrust her into.

When I went to bed around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning of the 15th, she was still alive. I had some sweaters to hand-wash lying on the floor at the foot of my bed, and she was curled up amongst those. When my alarm went off at 7 a.m. that morning and I got up, I saw that she'd dragged herself to the kitchen, where she was stretched out on the rug in front of the sink. Half on her back, body contorted, eyes open, mouth open. It looked like a spasm of pain had wracked her body before she died. (She wasn't a curled-up, peaceful-looking kitty in death.) I didn't hear her cry out if she did.

I didn't go into work Wednesday. I left an early message for my boss, then called some local vets to find out about cremation. I set an appointment for that afternoon, but couldn't leave her just yet and cancelled. At first I was scared to touch her, so I just left her as she lay in the kitchen, then got back into bed, where I stayed for the rest of the day and slept and slept, and dreamt of cats.

My first set of dreams was disturbing: Cats with dilated eyes that I'd pet, thinking they were dead, only to have them stir when I touched them... And then a more peaceful second dream: I had a bag full of white kittens. And every time I'd open the bag to peer in, one or two would keep popping out and fall gently into a drawer below. I'd try to stop them from getting out, but they'd keep squirming out! There'd be 3 or 4 white kittens, then one of those adult flat-faced long-haired cats, also white, would appear, and it would also pop out into the drawer...then more white kittens... I remember worrying, "What am I going to do with all of these babies? Who will take them and give them homes?" There was a young boy, maybe 8 years old, who took 2 of them...

I'm not going to sit here and say "Gracie's been reincarnated! Her spirit was passing into those white cats!" But the white-cat dream made me feel happy. Like... Gracie's cat spirit had passed into those new little white cats.

When I woke up in the evening, I wasn't scared to touch her any more. I said "Goodbye, Honey." I petted her one last time behind her ears, and under her chin, and I stroked her belly and down her back to the tip of her tail. And, though she didn't really like to have her paws touched, I had to pet her paws one last time -- Like Hemingway's Cuban cats, she had an extra thumb on her front paws.

And I looked carefully at her pretty fur: Tiger-striped AND leopard-spotted on her belly, and her top-coat gray with odd light-beige patches here and there. (My mom once asked me, "Did you put bleach on her?") And her pretty face: Chubby cheeks; full, fine whiskers that her Austin vet always complimented every time he saw her. (I couldn't see her pretty, smart green eyes any more, since they had, in death, become all frozen black pupil.)

And finally, after this, late Wednesday I was able to pick her up and place her in the cardboard box that I'd take her to get cremated in the next day. I left the top of the box open, though, just in case.

There was a stack of papers here near my computer where she'd always flop down for a visit of an hour or so every evening, just to be close before going off and being private for the next few hours until I went to bed (when she'd jump up and sleep with me). As I write this, I keep looking to my left, half-expecting to see her round the corner for her visit. And I look and I say back to her now, "Hi BehBeh. Come here and say 'hi' to me. Pretty Girl."

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