Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Shared Mythologies: the Darkness in the Light

Three years ago, I came home on the day before the solstice to find my fat cat, Merle, lying on the kitchen floor. Usually he would come greet me at the door, but on that day he didn't even lift his head.  He was lethargic, but he purred when I said hi, so I figured he'd eaten something weird (the cat had once chocked on a bell, and he ate an entire pack of contraceptive pills when he was a kitten. It wouldn't be out of the norm).  The fact that he hadn't eaten his breakfast, however, was rather odd.  Merle ate all the time, without fail.  He had an immune deficiency and required cortisone shots every six weeks.  I like to blame those for the hunger/fatness issues.

Once, a few years before that, I thought he had an eye infection.  When we finally brought him to the vet, we found out that his immune deficiency was attacking his gums.  Six teeth were so rotten, they had to be pulled out.  It never slowed down his eating.

So when I realized Merle had missed a meal, I grew concerned. Roomy was away to the Pony Fair in Las Vegas (couldn't drive there, go fig), so I was on my own.  By 6:30 pm, it was obvious that Merle was in distress, so I gently put him in the carrier (as gentle as you can be with a 25 lbs cat), then in Maude (my car), and drove to the emergency clinic.  This is the only call I have ever made on my cell phone while driving.  I called my brother so he could meet me there, since the clinic was not far from his house and I knew I would become a crying mess.

Okay, I was already a mess.  I'd lived with this cat for nine years, since he was a wee bit of a Merle.  My mom had decided she wanted an orange cat to call Miel.  My friend Ren and I made that vision happen.  And he became angry Merle.  He'd stayed with me and my senior tabby, Bart, and the three of us lived alone for a few years, welcoming friends into our house now and then.

We reached the vet clinic and my brother was waiting outside.  The cat weighed a ton, especially in his carrier, but I wanted to carry him in.  We brought him in the room and waited for consultation. He was lethargic still and wasn't purring or moving around anymore.

There's this point in every pet owner's lives when you know your pet isn't coming home.  Sometimes it's really obvious.  With Merle, I knew the second I went to say good bye to him.  They'd strapped him up to monitors and an IV line, and planned on doing tests overnight and contact me with results in the morning.  When I went to say goodbye as he lay in his little cage, I knew that was it.  The cat had a good run, but life had finally caught up to him, at the tender age of nine.

I received the call at midnight, on the cusp of the summer solstice.  His heart had stopped and they had failed to resuscitate him.  They needed my permission to stop efforts, since they hadn't seen this coming, and I had signed no paperwork. 

"Just let him go."

I spent the night with my brother and Ren.  We watched bad movies and laughed at the memories. The next morning, my family gathered for a final farewell.  He had been a big cat, in every sense of the word, and had made a mark in our lives. That was my brother's first Father's Day, too. Well, it was memorable! 

That evening was Earthborn, the Kymeras' summer solstice show. I was a mess.  I hadn't slept all night and had cried most of it.  I thought I'd go and tell just one story, and then come home.  But Ruthanne Edward, the other Kymeras storyteller, was struck down with H1N1, and I needed to tell at least two stories for the audience.  The theme was "home."  I remember that I told a story about Merle, and equated him to home.  Everyone cried.  Except me, cause I was telling at the time and had to maintain some form of composure.  At one point I had to tell the audience to close their eyes and take a deep breath with me, and they all did.  It was soothing and stopped the tears from flowing. Okay, I cried after the show.

I don't fully remember that story. It was created on the spur of the moment, out of grief and exhaustion, and will never be told again.

Some stories just aren't meant to be told more than once.

I always feel nostalgic when the warm weather sweeps through my city.  Tonight, I'm also bringing in my first car, Maude, for a final farewell, the same way that she helped me bring Merle to his final farewell on the same day, three years ago.

I'm looking forward to meeting my new car, but there's still some sadness attached to losing your first car. We went everywhere, Maude and I.  To Cape Breton, Memphis, Rhode Island (twice!), Kentucky, Windsor...  Good memories were made while driving that car.

A friend once told me that it was good to be in a couple, because you had someone to witness your story. I've been single a long time and enjoy it, but I agree with this philosophy, though I don't limit it to couples. I have a great group of friends, my family, who witness life and make it everything it is.

When we buried Merle, they were all there (in spirit if not in person), and I remember watching my nephew, not even a year old, in my sister-in-law's arms.  I remember vividly the rush of grief when I realized that, to my nephew, Merle would only ever be a legend.  A story told at night. Something the old people rambled about.

And then, I took heart when I told the story at Earthborn. Just as I do today telling all of you.  Just as I will tonight when I hand over the keys to Maude to a complete stranger.  Well, I won't necessarily tell him all of it, but I'll share the memories with all of my friends, still. My mythology is theirs, and theirs is mine.

And so Merle and Maude, both caramel-coloured and legendary in my own mind (ha!), will live on in my friends' memories, and in mine. There's great comfort in that, somehow.

Although I now refuse to name any more of my caramel-coloured things with anything starting with "M."  Lesson learned!