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And Then There Was One

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

I have been an animal person as far back as I can remember. Growing up, I adored my dogs and cats. When I was 15 I returned from Europe to find that my cat D.C. had gone missing. He never returned. Heartbroken to have no pets, I saw an ad for free kittens at a nearby farmhouse (I would not advocate this method of acquiring a companion now). I rode my bike there after school and got a little orange tabby kitten. I put him in a tote bag and rode home. I told my Mom some friends had given him to me. I had to set it up that there was no way he could be returned, you see. Sneaky. His name was George. When I left for Interlochen Arts Academy in 1993, he disappeared soon after. I came home a few months later for the winter break and he returned home. After I went back, he disappeared again. To this day I believe he was trying to find me. I forge some serious bonds with animals.

A few years later, now an adult and living in Los Angeles at the ripe old age of 18, I was hanging out with friends. We were socializing late into the night. We decided to go up on the roof of the apartment building in Hollywood to see the sunrise. A little beige tabby kitten, no more than 8-10 weeks old, came up and sat on my boot. Everywhere I would go that morning, he would follow me and me alone. He was friendly to the other 20 or so people that were there, but he would always move when I would move. He followed me into the hallway and down the elevator. In an impulse move that would alter the course of my adult life, I made the decision that I must take him home with me. I named him Henry.

Henry and I were thick as thieves. We were together all the time when I was home. He was the gentlest soul I have ever known. Being across the country from my family, having Henry with me brought me great comfort and made me feel less alone. Having an animal companion as an adult changed my relationship with animals. He was my responsibility. There were many times when I would have to buy him food and none for myself because there was only enough money for one of us to eat. I did it gladly. He came first. Being a starving artist has its sacrifices but I made sure Henry was never the one making them.

I moved into my first apartment by myself when I was 20. My previous roommates had all had cats so Henry was also living alone for the first time. He was visibly lonely. I was recording in Hollywood a lot (I lived in Silverlake) and he spent many hours alone. I’d come home to find all the toilet paper and paper towel in the house shredded to bits. I knew I needed to get a second cat. It just so happened a friend of mine was looking for a home for her 9 month old cat. She had rescued her after her feral mother was killed by a car when she was a very small kitten. When I met June, it was clear she did not like me. I instantly regretted saying I would take her, but decided I could not back out of the arrangement.

I brought June home in January of 1998. She and Henry bonded quickly. His mood greatly improved. She didn’t like me at all and would hide under the futon sofa most of the time I was home. Over time she began to let me pet her while under there. Never when she was out and about but she’d allow it if she could not see me. This went on for quite some time. It was a few years later that I was petting her one day, me on the couch and her underneath, that she began to purr. I was astonished. I had been telling people all  the while that I had a cat that did not purr. I thought she could not! It turned out those feral genes were quite something to overcome.

Over the years June became much more friendly. Mostly because I respected her boundaries. I spoke to her often and would touch her when she wanted but always allowed her space when I sensed she wanted it. I was patient and her love for Henry was clear so I considered her his cat that I just so happened to take care of.

I moved to Chicago, then New York, then Grand Rapids, MI, Henry and June in tow each time. There was no question they would come with me. Ever. I take the commitment seriously. I knew their souls and their hearts, their personalities. They were my family. I adored them.

Wendy came into my life in October 2004. She had been thrown from a car, left for dead, not even litter trained yet. My friend had her and he came over, knocked on my door, and when I opened it she ran inside. I looked down and said “Wendy! Wendy Joy.” That was that. I had to have her. She did go and stay at my friend’s house that first night because I initially did not want to have 3 cats. Henry was so attached to me that I always worried more cats would upset him; that he would think he was not enough for me or be jealous of my affections to anyone other than June who still kept her distance most of the time. But alas, I had let myself fall in love with that little Wendy and I had her come back to live with me. I worked from home and was better prepared to handle a kitten.

In the Summer of 2008 I was on my front porch one day when the cutest cat I had ever seen jumped up from the yard and greeted me. He was very friendly and I spent some time with him. Over that Summer I would go outside and read and he would sit in a chair next to mine, happy as a clam to be near me. He would howl through my open bedroom window until I would come see him. In the Autumn, I would put on layers and continue to spend a few hours a day with him outside. He developed an abscess that I treated with some leftover gel I had from an infection Henry had suffered. I put peroxide on it twice a day as well. At one point he could barely get up onto the chair, crying out in pain. But in the end he recovered nicely. When the temperatures dropped below freezing, I realized the jig was up and I could no longer pretend he was not my cat. He came inside and the rest was history.

It’s amazing the bonds we can develop with our animal companions. It’s amazing how some people don’t understand that or dismiss our pain when one of them gets sick. The worry, the hovering, more worrying, a lot of fear. Those fears became ultra real when Henry seemed very off and despondent in April of 2011. I took him to the vet immediately. He was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure and was in acute failure at the time. He might not even make it through the weekend, my vet said. My world collapsed. Truly. We had been together for nearly 16 years, since I was 18! How could this be happening? When you’re 18 you are not worrying about the end. You just don’t think like that. I did not know how I could possibly live without him. I was a full-time nurse for the last 3 months of his life. His quality of life my only concern.

On July 13, 2011 his time came. I made the decision. I made the appointment. Time clicked slowly by that day as I would look at the clock and calculate how many hours until I would have to do the unthinkable. Take my best friend in the world and watch him die. He could not jump onto the bed. He could not walk in a straight line. He got lost in the house. He wanted nothing to do with me. It was the right call to make. But it was killing me inside. I would never be the same after that day. The scene at the animal clinic can play and replay in my mind at any moment, and I know now it always will be able to. I felt the last beat of his heart as he breathed heavy breaths. I was shattered.

I had a lot to do in the coming 6 weeks so I didn’t have a lot of time to properly grieve. I mean, I did grieve quite a bit, but when I finally took some down time I slipped into the worst depression I have ever known. When you are depressed everything is hard. People say “Don’t be sad.” You wish you could be sad! I keep learning that in those moments you wish you could cry. Crying would be feeling something. You wish you could get angry. And yet you are afraid those emotions will do you in forever so you avoid them. Your mind does not let you feel anything. Depression is a loss of will, not a sadness.

I could never have known that 10 months later, just as I had finally pulled myself back to some sort of state you might call ‘living,” just after I had known some real joy for the first time in over a year, Charlie would get sick. He lost weight and had a complete crash, facing the wall on the couch and throwing up anything he ate or drank. I rushed him to the vet. 2 days later I found out he had stomach cancer. I brought him home and tried steroids but he did not respond. I had to make the call again. He was visibly in so much pain. His eyes showed he was lost, done. I took him in and watched him take his final breaths. It was a different experience than Henry, but it was still quite painful.

I had a busy summer so I had to find a way to carry on. I just had to. But fate would strike again in only 4 months. Last weekend June suddenly took a very bad turn. She was despondent. She would not let me pet her without complaining. She did not move from the couch. On Saturday morning I took her in first thing. Chronic Kidney Disease, in acute failure. She was put on IV fluids and antibiotics as she had a bad infection as well.

We tried but Monday morning the vet told me she was even worse and there was nothing to be done. Actually, they called and told me she was not improving. When I came in at 9:30 am to euthanize her they told me she had finally urinated so maybe there was some hope that her kidneys had not completely given out. Blood work showed she had greatly worsened in 2 days. There was no hope for her. None. So once again, after nearly 15 years together, I watched another of my precious loves take her last breath. I felt her heart stop beating. 3 cats in 15 months. Gone.

My house feels empty. I feel empty. I cannot cry again. Maybe a slight moment here or there, but I mostly feel numb. And restless. Nothing is what I want. I cannot get what I want. Me and Wendy sit here in this empty house, unsure of how to deal with one another. She comes by once and again for attention or moreso because she wants food. I think she is trying to soothe herself with food as she is begging for it more often than usual. I am unsure how to move on. I know Wendy needs some companions as she has always lived with other cats, and I will get some. But right now I am grieving so my heart says “I want the other cats BACK.” I would do anything.

I never knew I would be one who would take these things so hard, but I should have suspected considering I have spent my life making music that is based on struggling through the bad stuff. It helps me to channel it that way. It helps others too. I love that people take it and apply it to their own lives. It makes a positive out of negativity.

But right now I can only find the negativity. The light will come again and the music will come again but for now I am silenced…

 

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
tinawiesen
Oct. 14th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
You have so much courage, my friend. Through all of the past year and a half, you have opened your heart in public and exposed everything--all of it. Illness, hospice, death, loss, grief, mourning, and depression; the things that don't come with personal and individual instructions or are discussed in polite conversation. Talking and discussing isn't comfortable or easy, even with those closest to us, especially with those closest to our hearts and lives. But, you've done all of that and continue to do so. None of this is metaphor. It's real and raw. I find that to be extraordinary and brave and honest.

Only a person capable of deep and immense love could feel and know and express the passions of the human condition. Extremes. Always extremes with you. Insufferable pain, sorrow, and great immeasurable fear and anger, yet, you give and give, open conversation, show compassion, listen, acknowledge you're flailing, and put your process and private nightmares out there.

Who chooses to do that? You have.

You create music for yourself first, with integrity and depth. You take painful and ugly experiences and universal things and make something beautiful out of all that by sharing your work with those that have ears to hear and enjoy and hopefully apply some meaning to their lives as well. It is magical.

The words and thoughts you've shared here and all over social media during the last year and a half while you've been suffering will produce the same effect for you and those that you've touched in the doing of it, eventually. I have no idea how that magic will manifest itself, but I fully believe in the power of your love, because that's where it comes from.

Thank you. A million times, thank you.
kevenn
Oct. 15th, 2012 01:38 pm (UTC)
I can't imagine your pain. To loose three in such a close time. What a heartache. Loosing my furry kids - it is literally my greatest fear. I dread it constantly, though I know it is inevitable. I am very sad for you - and it reminds me of the sadness awaiting me one day.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )