I Lost My Best Friend

*Please forgive typos and poor grammar. I typed this on my phone at a very late hour. I’ll try to come back and give it a proper edit. I’m not sure when I’ll feel up to it.*

A bit over seven years ago now, my life was going through a lot of changes. I’d just started a new job and was moving into a new place with the woman who would later become my wife. We’d just finished painting and hadn’t quite finished moving all of her things in when we met Vin.

We’d discussed getting a pet for quite a while. My wife wanted to get a dog. I like dogs, but have always been a cat person. I’ve had them for my entire life. She claimed that cats never liked her. Regardless, she convinced me to go to an adoption event one afternoon at a pet store. We’d been shopping for furniture to fill our new place when she pointed out the sign as we were about to leave. There was some discussion about how we shouldn’t get a pet yet and how we had to wait until we’d at least finished moving in.

We walked in and to the area the rescue was set up. My wife walked down the row of cages and “awwwed” at some of the adorable and aloof cats after being disappointed by the lack of dogs at the event. I stopped to say hello to a scrawny little tuxedo with a Hitler mustache. I had a soft spot for calicos, but this fellow came to the front of the cage when I paused to look inside. Unlike every other cat there, he looked me in the eye and wanted to say hello, even rubbing against the cage to encourage me to put my fingers between the bars and give him a scratch.

My wife came over to see what had caught my attention. As I gave the cat, whose name card said was called Vin, some scritches, one of the volunteers came over and asked if we wanted to spend some time with the cat. I told her that we weren’t looking to adopt today, but were thinking about doing so in the near future. Somehow she talked us into the “introduction” room. I’m still not sure how it happened.

You’ve probably seen one if you’ve ever been into a pet store, but if you haven’t, these rooms are basically oversized closets with a bench large enough for two people to sit on against one wall and a door with a large window so volunteers can keep an eye on how things are going. The woman led us in, brought in Vin and left us alone after observing how I interacted with the cat. My wife largely sat still, saying that cats never liked her and talking about how they always scratched her. Vin wandered the small floor as we talked about how he seemed sweet, then jumped in my lap for some affection.

I remember my wife saying, “how do you do that? Cats never like me. Every cat my friends have ever had…” And she trailed off as Vin walked from my lap to hers and head-butted her hand for some love. She tentatively stroked his head, and seemed astonished as he lay down on the bench next to her, put his head on her leg, and seemed to fall asleep. She made a noise somewhere between a squeak and a squeal (I’d never heard her make a similar noise before and haven’t since), looked me straight in the eyes, and said “we’re taking him home”.

A short time later, I was carrying a box with Vin inside up the stairs and into our apartment. My wife carried the “welcome package” of some food and litter, as well as the other essentials we’d purchased for our new pet. On the way home, and as I set the box down and opened it, I explained that he’d probably hide for a while and not to be worried if he disappeared​ under the bed for at least a day. I needn’t have bothered. The cat went under the bed, but came out after only a few minutes.

Through emails with the woman who fostered him, we learned that Vin was the only survivor of an abandoned litter, the rest having succu to pneumonia. We’d already decided that his name didn’t suit him, but learned it had been after Vin Diesel. It didn’t take us long to rename him Lokai, for the half-black half-white alien from the original Star Trek. Shortly thereafter we added onto it, and he became Lokai Anbu as it was obvious he was a ninja. He got everywhere, including into the high cabinet where my wife’s shot glass collection was stored, somehow opening it and breaking several.

Despite the fact that I hadn’t wanted to bring him home and my protests that he was my wife’s cat, he squirmed his way into my heart. She started telling me he was my cat because of his tendency to sleep on my feet and greet me when I came into the house. He became my best friend.

Lokai was the most social cat I’ve ever met. We called him a cuddle-slut because of his propensity for curling up with visitors. Unlike most cats, who remain aloof, he would inspect all visitors and present himself to receive chin scritches, rewarding those properly performed with a deep purr like a motorboat that could be heard clear across a room.

For me, it was a white belly when he was feeling especially kind and an outstretched chin when rolling over would be too much effort.

A few years later, we brought a second cat into the house. Lokai was not pleased with the newcomer’s presence, but eventually warmed to her. Which was good, as she followed him around like his shadow. After he’d finally reconciled himself to the smaller cat’s existence, they’d be curled together in a ball whenever the weather cooled.

Lokai snored, which many examinations from vets told us wasn’t a health concern, and he was a pain in the ass. He loved little more than hearing things, preferably fragile things, hit the floor when knocked from a height. He’d turn our electronics off or on at inopportune times. If he decided it was feeding time, he made a nuisance of himself, walking in front of the television and planting himself in the evening or standing on my throat if I slept too late. I lost track of the small objects that were lost by being left on a table overnight and how many times I had to blindly search for my glasses because he knocked them under the bed. But, I’ll be damned if I didn’t love that cat.

Always a glutton, I took notice when he wasn’t eating. We were accustomed to having to watch like hawks to keep him from eating the other cat’s food. The second day there was food left in both cat bowls when it was time for their evening feeding, a Sunday, I told my wife I’d leave work early the following day to take him to the vet. I called that morning and made an afternoon appointment.

I got home and made a sandwich for myself with Lokai at my feet, as was usual. He didn’t beg, though, which was worrying, and I had to feed him a bit of ham by hand, which was even moreso. That cat loved ham and would normally cry and eagerly pounce on anything I dropped. I knew he definitely wasn’t feeling well.

Bringing him in wasn’t difficult, but it never was had been. He seemed to be more stressed than usual, crying and then lying silently on his side and panting during the drive. I thought it was just stress and him not feeling well.

Upon seeing the vet and describing his symptoms, she took a blood sample for testing and remarked on how heavily he was breathing. She suggested a chest x-ray. I told her I’d like to get the blood tests back the next morning before doing that, as I thought he was just under stress. She gave me a sheet with emergency vet and told.me to bring him to one if he continued to breathe that way.

We got home and after my wife and I finished our dinner I went to look for the cat. It wasn’t normal for him not to sit nearby as we ate and disconcerting when I found he was deep under the bed in our spare room. Pulling it away from the wall, he didn’t get up and I saw his breathing seemed labored. My wife came over and she agreed. We threw our shoes on and went to the emergency vet. Lokai didn’t cry and she sat with him in the back seat.

Getting there, the vet looked Lokai over. He said he thought the cat had fluid around his lungs. None of the possible causes were good ones​. He took x-rays and confirmed the liquid was there and put Lokai into an oxygen chamber. He said he wanted to do an ultrasound and would drain the liquid that was making it hard for my cat to breathe. He asked if we wanted him to. I told him that unless he told us that the cat was in hopeless pain, yes. We discussed the possible costs. I left a credit card deposit and my wife and I went home with the understanding I would pick up the cat in the morning, able to breathe but with a little less fur.

We got home, I dropped off my wife, and I parked my car. I took a few minutes to decompress. I was confident Lokai would be ok, but was worried about him and the rather expensive bills I was wracking up. I posted about what was going on to social media. As I hit submit and opened the door to walk inside, my phone rang. It was the veterinarian. It was about 11:00 pm.

“I did the ultrasound to prepare for the fluid extraction. As soon as I did… I saw a very large mass. It’s actually bigger than his heart. It’s pressing up against his sternum.”

I was silent for a long moment. OK, I said.

“That wasn’t the only one. I know you said you wanted me to remove the fluid unless the situation was catastrophic,” (that had been the word I’d used), ” but it is. If you tell me to go ahead, I’ll extract the fluid from around his lungs. But, he’s in really bad shape. There’s nothing anyone could do about this. I have to advise euthenasia. I’m sorry.”

I took a very deep breath. “I appreciate that. It’s really that bad…”

“Yes. Even if I drain the fluid, there will still be pressure on his lungs. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this. This is… This is not good. The oxygen is helping a little bit, but he reacted more to the pain medication, which tells me he’s in a lot of pain.”

“OK. I’ll have to talk to my wife.” I ended the call.

I told her what the vet had said. She broke out in tears. I struggled to hold back my own. We called back and told the vet we we’re coming to say our goodbyes. He went over options with me on the phone. 

We called our old roommate, who lives nearby and was always ridiculously fond of that cat. She told her mother, our neighbor. They both came with us to say goodbye. It’s selfish of me, but I resented their presence as I drove to go put down my best friend for the last seven years.

On arriving we we’re led into their larger exam room. I told the vet we did not want to be present when not he was put to sleep, but had to say goodbye. A tech brought Lokai to us wrapped up in a pink towel and left us alone. Everyone cried and pet him. I sat with my cat on my lap and my wife scratched his ears and under his chin as she sat on the floor in front of me. We continued until his breathing became obviously labored again. It didn’t take long enough.

My wife took the cat from me and I went to the door and called the vet in to say we were ready. She handed the cat to him, and I couldn’t help myself. I reached out and said, “I want to hug my cat.”

“Of course.”

I hugged him tight while trying to be careful and said my last goodbye before handing him over.

I signed the necessary paperwork. We chose crema and will get his ashes next week. I wound up being refunded some of my deposit. A part of me found that reassuring. No matter how much I know vets hate killing animals, it confirmed that they weren’t convincing me to put my cat down to make money.

We went home and I bawled.

I’ve had cats all my life. Pets dying is the worst part of having them, and you know it will happen. I’ve dealt with it before. This time it’s harder. So, so much harder. Lokai Anbu was a special animal. I’m not one who ever called my animals my children, and I never have treated them like kids. But I loved that cat. As I’ve said, he was my best friend. We spoiled him. I snuck him table food despite protests from my wife. I slept with him keeping my feet warm. I pet him when I was stressed or sad or lonely. I have an absurd number of pictures of him. I’ll miss him.

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I May Not Know Art, but I also Don’t Know What I Like

I try to let a little time pass before writing about some things, largely because it allows for rational thought as opposed to guttural reaction. I make a special effort if it’s been a hot topic in the blogosphere. Here’s hoping…

On March 7 of this year, International Women’s Day, a statue called Fearless Girl was placed on Wall Street. It was commissioned as part of a marketing campaign for an index fund and promote awareness of the gender divide in the investment industry. The statue of a young girl standing defiantly was placed so that it appears to be standing in opposition to the Wall Street Bull, and its material and style make it clear that it’s a companion piece.

I had mixed feelings that still persist today.

The Wall Street Bull, properly titled Charging Bull was a piece of guerilla art installed around Christmas in 1989. The artist described it as a reaction to the stock market crash of 1987 and said that it was representative of the strength of the American people and financial market, playing on the term “bull market”. It’s aggressive, and some might say menacing, in appearance. It’s large and solid. The message seemed to be that the American market would move upward, but the ride would be bumpy and investors should always be careful. Shortly after being installed, it was actually impounded by the police and only found a permanent home after public outcry.

But, at some point in the 27+ years since its installation, people’s view of the Bull changed. Instead of being symbolic of the strength of the American spirit, it became a symbol of Wall Street itself and the excesses of the financial industry. What was intended to inspire became a source of revulsion. Intent no longer mattered as focus shifted and attitudes changed. It became the target of our ire. The Bull was now destruction and danger.

That new view of Charging Bull was what Defiant Girl was placed in response to. She would stand bravely in front of the beast of the financial market. This also highlighted the masculinity of the original piece. This could be read multiple ways, though. She’s standing up to a male dominated industry. She’s standing in the way of progress. She’s about to be crushed foolishly. She’s rebuking an uncontrolled beast. All of these are true. All of these are valid.

Of course the internet exploded. Arguments abounded throughout social media and the comment sections of innumerable blog pieces and news articles. Supporters claimed critics were misogynistic. Critics claimed the piece wasn’t “art” because it was commissioned by an investment firm (which is Bullshit to anyone who knows why most of the greatest works of the Renaissance were financed). The most popular interpretation was that it was a symbol of feminine strength opposing masculine domination. I can see it, understand it, and believe in that message. Yet, I found myself troubled.

The questions of ownership of art have been running through my mind. The artist of Charging Bull has been clear on his dislike of the new piece, feeling that it warps the intent of his own. Does that matter? Who gets to decide? The zeitgeist holds the Bull as the symbol of Wall Street, which it associates with greed and corruption. They don’t view it as strength and hope. To them, Defiant Girl is the bravery of women in the face of overwhelming odds. Can these two pieces exist as both of those things? What’s more, does an artist have the right to change another’s work?

Imagine if someone were to put a statue of a young altar boy in front of a statue of Pope John Paul II. He’d have an open mouth and a slightly frightened look in his eyes, facing the pontiff, slightly below, and very close. They title it The Church’s Hidden Victim and say that it symbolizes the victims of abuse by members of the clergy under John Paul’s watch. Just picture it. Here, have a visual aid.

Not hard to imagine. It’s almost like it’s what the sculptor had in mind. Credit to Paweł Kocik via Wikimedia Commons

Is that still representative of hope or piety? I’m thinking it’s not. And I’m still of two minds as to whether or not I’m ok with it.

For now, I’ll be looking at the Bull and the Girl the way I do those images that can be seen as a duck or a rabbit. From one angle it’s hope. From another it’s oppression. Over there it’s defiance. But from right there it’s obstruction.

Personally, I’d have crafted the statue so that she was putting a ring in the bull’s nose to take control of it. But, I’m no artist.