May 29th, 2013


The Ninjas Have Left The Building

Ben the cat passed away yesterday sometime in the evening. It appears to have been very peaceful—he was curled up in one of his favorite napping spots, and simply didn’t wake up. He was in good health, other than being a bit overweight, and had been active and normal, so most likely he simply had a heart attack or an aneurysm or one of the various ailments that strike otherwise healthy creatures and ends matters instantly. He was around eleven years old, possibly older, given the relative difficulty of judging a rescue’s age once they’re full grown.

It was a good and quick death, the sort most of us wish for and unfortunately don’t get. He made it as easy on us as he could. I was getting back from a trip and was able to say goodbye. A day earlier and Kevin would have had to make one of the bad phone calls, a few weeks later and we would have been deep into traveling and there would have been a nagging fear that maybe he had been acting sick and we didn’t pick up the signs. And there was not a long, lingering illness or that awful choice you have to make with all the attendant guilt.

He went on his own terms, still at the top of the cat hierarchy, and he never lost a fight in his life. Since riding off into the swamp on the back of a burning alligator, clawing at its eyes, was not really a viable option, this was as good as it could be.

I’m a wreck, of course. Irrevocable things should not happen so fast and so suddenly and without seeing them coming. Still, if I can write this up, perhaps it will be a thing that has happened, not a thing that is currently happening.

He was a force of nature, a big, surly, affectionate thug. I picked him up from the rescue about three months before it turned out I was getting divorced and really, really needed him. There were a couple of stretches in there where it was Ben and I vs. the world. He would escort me down stairs and to the bathroom (he kept up the bathroom escort for the rest of his life) and lick my face with an air of vague annoyance that I could not be trusted to groom myself properly. I saved his life twice—once with the rescue, once with some excruciatingly expensive medical intervention that bought him another three years—and he certainly saved mine a few times, so I imagine that whatever cosmic ledger keeps track of such things is balanced now.

Losing a pet is always miserable, but Ben was more than that. Of all the pets I’ve ever known, he was one of the only ones who felt like an adult, like having an immensely competent friend and roommate who happened to weigh eighteen pounds.

I can’t shake the feeling, however sentimental, that perhaps he simply decided that I was okay on my own now, and went off to his next gig.

Well. I have never been to Valhalla and don’t anticipate going, but I expect that’s where Ben ended up, or something very like it. Hopefully the door guards did not attempt to bring up the technicality of not having died in combat, and so would not have to spend all that time in the infirmary recovering. Freya’s chariot was pulled by cats, so I expect they understand about cats there.

I imagine he probably swaggered in, smacked a few hounds in the face, jumped on the table and threaded his way through tankards and drunken Vikings. Probably he took some food off someone’s plate, then sat on the edge of the table and waiting for a suitably well-padded Valkyrie to come by. Then he’d stand up, drape his paws over her shoulder, rub her face and purr.

As Valkyries are not made of stone, she’d take him back to wherever they sleep, whereupon he would hog the bed and lash his tail whenever she attempted to get another couple of inches back.

And in the morning—or whatever passes for morning in Valhalla—I expect he went on to whatever big warrior cats do next. Spirits like his are few and far between, and I was greatly privileged that he decided I was worth his time.

I have no doubts that whoever runs into him next will also be aware of it. Subtlety was never his strong suit.

Goodbye, Ben. And good luck, wherever your paws take you.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.



The thing with grief, if I may whine for a bit, is that it splits you into different people and all those different people are doing different things.

Practical shows up first (at least in me, and thank god for it) and says “Yes, I WILL have hysterics, but in a minute—first we have to deal with all the horribly banal details.” It would be easier if we all just fell apart into rose petals or motes of light when we died, but we live in an unpleasantly biological universe. Fortunately Kevin was here and handled most of that.

Practical holds together pretty much long enough to pour the first shot.

Then the bit that I think of as me wanders around feeling like I’ve been hit by a board—what just happened? Is this really happening? Is this allowed to happen? Does the universe really get to do things like that without the possibility of a do-over? Can’t we fix this somehow? Isn’t there someone we can call?

Then my body starts crying. I can’t really explain it better than that—I suppose Hyperbole & A Half nailed it, because it feels like an emotion called crying, not like me being sad. Me still isn’t quite sure that this is irrevocable, that I don’t have a save point somewhere, that I can’t just go back in time three hours and maybe get a re-roll. My body, somewhat wiser, knows that bodies are mortal, that whether or not me is a soul and gets to go on to other lives, bodies get a finite run. It takes orders somewhere below the conscious level. It starts crying.

Crying, however, is exhausting and you can’t do it for long. Well, I can’t. Other people maybe have toned those muscles more. I get about thirty seconds to a minute of intensive weeping and then I’m drained. And then life is almost sort of normal for a few minutes, and I can find things funny and even laugh (although laughing is perilous and may set off crying again) and then the reserve of energy builds up again, as if I’m climbing some sort of switchback of grief, and then I get another minute of weeping again and then my eyelids are raw and my sinuses are plugged up and I have to stop crying to find a Kleenex. It’s like an allergic reaction caused by fate—No, I don’t accept this, my body is rejecting all these individual particles of what just happened, and so your nose swells up and your eyes get red and you croak like a frog out for a walk.

Incidentally, there’s a mockingbird on my block who can do frog calls. Also the two-note “boop-boop!” sound of a car being unlocked remotely. I discovered this this morning while sitting on the front deck, crying into gardening gloves. Don’t do this. Take your gloves off. No matter how miserable you are, life will not be made better if you wipe your eyes with a coarse polymer fabric impregnated with dirt. It took me about ten minutes to learn this basic truth and I pass it on to you free of charge.

Also, I have poison ivy in both armpits. Just there, nowhere else. I must have been doing a tick check or tightening a bra strap or something. I’ve had it for over a week now, I just haven’t had an opportunity to work it into conversation yet. Applying camphor to your armpits is really quite unfortunate. For skin that gets stropped with a razor every day, it is wretchedly delicate.


Eventually Practical comes out again—we have to stop this, we have to write something, writing fixes things, writing makes you believe what you just said, writing nails down reality to the page and we can work from there—and slowly things start to unify together. And Kevin moves the chair that Ben died in up to the attic, so that I’m not staring at it whenever I walk in the door and seeing the indentation (useless chair anyway, only good as a cat bed, no one uses it, just takes up space, also blocking the beer fridge, so to hell with the chair.)

The part that’s me starts to kick off the crying. I can finally put my finger on an emotion and say There, right there, that’s sorrow, instead of being made of equal parts bewilderment and cryingThis is the point where I move into Advanced Coping Mechanism, where I deal with it as long as I can stand and then I call time out and go play video games. Jade Empire and Oddworld and Knights of the Old Republic got me through my divorce. I would literally talk about my relationship until I couldn’t handle it any more and then say “Okay, I need to stop this for a bit.” (Possibly my marriage would have lasted longer if we had separate consoles.) I am hoping to conquer this one with a few long Civ campaigns, although I have Bioshock Infinite ready to crack in case of spiraling despair.

(Give it credit, my grief is well-trained. When I say time out, it really truly steps back. We have made a bargain that I will only call on this power when I have a game queued up, and it allows itself to be switched off for an hour or so at a time, as long as there is no sneaky trying-to-think-around-the-edges. We both adhere to our sides of the bargain.)

And I mostly stop hoping for a do-over, except for the occasional Really? Are we sure? fading off into the distance, like the call of a kildeer somewhere over the moor, except that I don’t have a moor. I should probably get one. They seem like useful things, moors.

And I can’t eat and food is nauseating and then finally my body says To hell with this, I’m taking command here and I eat an entire pizza by myself, and think Good thing I’m emotionally healthy! This sort of thing could really fuck a person up.

Kevin’s been awesome. If there was a medal for Doing Everything Right, he would get it with all the extra stars and bobs and gizmos and clusters. I hope when his turn comes to be miserable, I’ll do even half so good a job. (Well, of course, I find myself thinking, Ben wouldn’t have left you if he didn’t know there was someone there to take up his duties. Kevin was the only adversary in the house he respected. Heh.)

And I climb the switchbacks and wish it could be over faster, knowing that I’ll get to the top, knowing that this is not the worst thing I have lived through, nor the last thing I will live through, but still wishing there was a pass time button or a make camp button or take an extended rest button, just so I could be there now instead of staring up to the top of the hill.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.