Willow Bean

Our local animal shelter is precariously placed between our nearest Target and the car wash. Because I like my car clean, and because there’s always a reason to go to Target, I have learned that I must take alternate routes to get to both places to avoid the shelter. If I don’t, we would end up with a menagerie. I’ve seen a chickens and goats there! I’ve told myself that I just want to go in and pet the cats and dogs, but I can’t keep that promise to myself.

This September, I randomly stopped in, on a day I’d lied to myself about petting cats. They had so many kittens that, frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t fill the whole car. Instead, I adopted Willow, a cat that they’d not bothered naming, and that the entire staff came out to thank me personally for taking. I’m pretty sure that it was his last day, and they were grateful someone saved him. Not only was his adoption fee free, when I tried to make a donation (which I always do when I adopt a “free” animal), I felt like they wanted to refuse it.

At the right angle, he is pretty cute, isn't he? Even though he's ancient, he looks like a kitten because he's so itty bitty. Who'd know he's the equivalent of an 88-year old man? With this photo, I argue that many would have adopted him as well - so long as they couldn't smell him.

At the right angle, he is pretty cute, isn't he? Even though he's ancient, he looks like a kitten because he's so itty bitty. Who'd know he's the equivalent of an 88-year old man? With this photo, I argue that many would have adopted him as well - so long as they couldn't smell him.

He wasn’t in a cage; he was a free-roamer, with about fifteen other cats, who are considered social enough to be allowed to wander the cat room. Willow decided he was going home with me the minute I entered the cat room. He followed me from cage to cage, meowing until I picked him up, and then promptly fell asleep in my arms, purring. If I put him down, he cried at my ankles and started the whole process all over again.

Good gawd he could be cute.

Good gawd he could be cute.

I’m certain he was trying to explain that despite his offensive odor, and hideous appearance, he would make a great friend, and to please take him home. He was far too thin, to the point that you couldn’t just feel his bones, you could feel every bone, and I’m pretty sure his organs. His long fur was matted and dirty. And, you could smell his cheesy, leaky ears from the parking lot.

From the moment he came home, he only left my lap when either he, or I, had to use the bathroom, or he had to eat. I got used to the smell. I guess, at the shelter, he was trying to clue me in to his plan after all.

From the moment he came home, he only left my lap when either he, or I, had to use the bathroom, or he had to eat. I got used to the smell. I guess, at the shelter, he was trying to clue me in to his plan after all.

At least his presence in my personal bubble kept the lonely women away. Did you know that the cat room at your local shelter is a beacon for single women? I guess this should’ve been a no-brainer, but I didn’t realize just how common it is for women to just swing by and pet cats. Say, on the way home from the gym, on their lunch break, or just because they were sad. Very, very sad. I can’t criticize too much, because that’s exactly what I did that day; but there was a twinge of something “else” about everyone else there, especially since they all came and went without a cat, which made it weird.

Anyway, note to single men looking for a gal: cat room.

As we all know, there’s no such thing as a free cat (or dog!). Willow went to the vet, in his short time with us, more times than Homer has needed to go, in the past five years. He got extra food, special litter, and prescription medication that had to be applied daily. He was brushed, combed, and even got a special haircut. He was adored beyond measure.

By me.

Hideous headache picture, but adorable scarf-cat picture. He really liked to be carried around and worn like this, for some reason. I've never seen such a thing! By the way, Chiari sure can make you ugly on pain days, can't it!? Look at that facial swelling! Yikes!

Hideous headache picture, but adorable scarf-cat picture. He really liked to be carried around and worn like this, for some reason. I've never seen such a thing! By the way, Chiari sure can make you ugly on pain days, can't it!? Look at that facial swelling! Yikes!

Only me.

The other cats were displeased with Willow’s alley cat ways, and his strange ability to convince them that they should be relegated to only the back bedrooms. They were as confused as the rest of us about his powers of persuasion, considering he was a Lilliputian. Collin was Collin about him, and found him less interesting than the Wii, but more interesting than the carpeting.

Willow took a keen interest in Collin's new favorite food, Cambell's instant cup-o-soup. When we pointed out that they smell a lot like cat food, Collin wasn't amused.

Willow took a keen interest in Collin's new favorite food, Cambell's instant cup-o-soup. When we pointed out that they smell a lot like cat food, Collin wasn't amused.

 

Bryon, of course, was indifferent to the fact that another animal joined the menagerie, despite his protestations that we didn’t need another cat.

Bryon was building Lego sets. Willow wanted to be a scarf. You'd think a cat wouldn't like to be held this way. You would be wrong.

Bryon was building Lego sets. Willow wanted to be a scarf. You'd think a cat wouldn't like to be held this way. You would be wrong.

Willow refused to give up on Bryon though. Like all adorable and pathetic creatures, he used this lack of power to weaken Bryon, who was eventually defenseless against fuzziness. Bryon grew to admit, at least, an affection for the little scamp, too.

Willow was napping atop the couch while Bryon was working. In his snoring state, he literally fell off, and into this position, where he stayed, snuggled between the couch and Bryon's back, purring away, because he was next to a warm body. That cat was so weird.

Willow was napping atop the couch while Bryon was working. In his snoring state, he literally fell off, and into this position, where he stayed, snuggled between the couch and Bryon's back, purring away, because he was next to a warm body. That cat was so weird.

Like all animals, we are charmed by what they do that’s frustrating, as much as what they do that is adorable. Willow, perhaps because he weighed only what his fur and bones weighed, was always seeking warmth. He slept not on your lap, but on your face, or wrapped around your neck, like a scarf. He sought to sleep, at night, curled against your face, or curled under your chin, sucking up the warmth from your breath.

As adorable as that sounds, remember that smell I mentioned? Turns out that his ears were filled with benign, inoperable tumors. They stank, and continued to stink. They collected all manner of airborne bacteria. No matter how clean we kept them, and no matter how good we were with the medication, he was still stinky. Really, stinky.

Willow and I "enjoying" a nap.

Willow and I "enjoying" a nap.

So, his refusal to be moved, his digging is claws into the pillow or into my hair was truly a lesson in love. He taught us, and especially me, that loving something challenging reaps rewards we aren’t expecting. Willow stank, and I held him close anyway. I knew he was old, and probably wouldn’t last long, and no matter how much I tried to keep myself from falling all the way in love with him, he wound his way deep into my heart, anyway.

How I woke up most mornings when Willow lived with us.

How I woke up most mornings when Willow lived with us.

At every visit to the vet, we’d ask, “is he uncomfortable,” and “is he in pain.” And, every time, the vet would assure us that he wasn’t. I know what it’s like to be in so much pain that I’d wish for death. I know what it’s like to be sick. I watched that silly cat be old, but not sick. I watched him be close to the end and not particularly healthy, but not particularly unwell either. It was a strange little relationship we had.

He looks pretty comfortable to me, frankly.

He looks pretty comfortable to me, frankly.

Within his short time with us, he had a few slips into illness that we thought were his end. We’d take him to the vet, and we braced for the worst. But, that silly cat would just have had a flare up of his ear infections, get some antibiotics and some fluids and come home a Skeletor version of a kitten. He was strong, and suddenly frisky. For Willow, that meant harassing the other cats, briefly. Homer and Loki always seemed especially displeased to see the cat carrier return from the vet, occupied.

Poor kitty.

Poor kitty.

A few days after Christmas, Willow looked sick again. This time though, he didn’t look sick like he looked sick before. He was hiding under the Christmas tree; but, when he was coming out, his back end was dragging, or falling beneath him. He had a bad bowel movement, and dragged his back end through it, and then didn’t clean himself. The poor kitty needed a bath. If you’ve ever bathed a cat, you know they object; he didn’t. Nor did he object when I blow dried him to stop his little skeleton body from shivering. I held him for hours afterward, wrapped in a blanket, while he randomly quaked in what I can only assume was pain.

Sick kitty after getting a bath and a blow dry.

Sick kitty after getting a bath and a blow dry.

I knew it was time, but instead of being braced, as I was all the other times he’d gotten sick, this time, when I called the vet, I held out hope. By the time we got to the vet the next day, he couldn’t stand when the vet unwrapped him from the blanket he was wrapped in. His back end was completely unstable. My heart broke.

Three months, and Smelly Cat broke my heart.

They let me hold him in his Wonder Woman blanket while they did it. He was so sick, with such dead weight, that his little body didn’t even get heavier when he went. I held him for a long time, and just kept petting him, crying. We all did. When we left, we made sure to put him in a nice position, curled in a nice, napping position, instead looking like a cat corpse. I asked Bryon if he thought the techs noticed things like that, and he assured me that they probably did. I was afraid that, because of how awful he looked, health-wise, they’d think he was unloved; I wanted them to know he was.

I can’t believe how much I miss that silly little cat. Even more, Bryon misses him too.

Homer "tolerated" Willow, but they got along near the end, even being willing to snuggle together. Loki, on the other hand, refused to have any part of it.

Homer "tolerated" Willow, but they got along near the end, even being willing to snuggle together. Loki, on the other hand, refused to have any part of it.

Of course, Loki and Homer have had a freedom party. They have ganged up, since he’s been gone, and formed the BFF-Team. Formerly, they were the epitome of sibling rivalry. There’s been endless snuggling, and other such cat adorableness. Purring in abundance has made me feel guilty about how miserable they were with Willow’s existence. It’s weird to be sad for him to be gone, and happy that he’s gone, at the same time. Well, I’m at least happy for the other cats.

The "usual" relationship between the three cats,  if  they managed to be in the same room.

The "usual" relationship between the three cats, if they managed to be in the same room.

I know this whole post makes me sound like a wacko cat lady; and frankly, that’s what I am. I’m not so sure that I care, really. A big part of my life, is spent at my house now that I’m home, so my animals are important to me. Taking care of an old sickly one, resonated with me for obvious reasons. I’m so grateful for having known him, and for being the one who got to be the strong one, instead of the weakly one, in our relationship. He taught me a lot about unconditional love, just by being his stinky, snuggly self. 

Now, we have snuggles all over the place. Happy kitties. I swear that Loki is purring and happy. It's impossible to take a picture of a black cat. They always look shocked or angry.

Now, we have snuggles all over the place. Happy kitties. I swear that Loki is purring and happy. It's impossible to take a picture of a black cat. They always look shocked or angry.

Homer seems especially pleased. I can't seem to get that cat off my lap. Homer is my best friend, which may seem weird. But, he's been with me since 2003, and is just as old as Willow was. I worry every day about that boy, but I think he'll live forever, just because I can't make it without him.

Seriously.

Seriously.

Super Serious: Why I Didn't Say Goodbye

Bryon says that this is a very serious sounding post...sorry. It made me cry when I read it, and when I wrote it; but it's about my life. He prefers when I'm funny. We can't be funny all the time!

When I was still working, one of my students asked me, right before my first surgery, if I’d written a goodbye letter, “just in case,” for Collin. This woman was a lovely student, except for the fact that she’d just made me cry in front of my class.

I can’t say that I hadn’t thought about it. In fact, I’d thought about it every day since my surgery had been scheduled. I’d sat down and started draft after draft. But, I didn’t end up writing a letter then, and I didn’t write a letter this time. I suppose it’s possible to see this as selfish. What if I’d died? My son wouldn’t have had a tangible goodbye to hold on to. He’d have had no final words, at least not on paper. He’d have had nothing, no physical “thing” to put in his hand.

But, the thing is, he’s nine, and he’s autistic. He collects random objects, and calls them treasures. I don’t get control over what he treasures though. He’s lost, or eschewed countless things that I thought qualified as mementos, and saved trash. He’s cultivated collections of string, bits of gravel, lint, dead bugs, and glitter.

This is Collin's treasure box, where he keeps his MOST prized treasures. Only the best things go in here. You can tell that something is super-duper special if it ends up in here, because the box is so small.

This is Collin's treasure box, where he keeps his MOST prized treasures. Only the best things go in here. You can tell that something is super-duper special if it ends up in here, because the box is so small.

It’s possible that I’m underestimating him on this subject, of course. The only real treasure that he’s kept, in his entire life, has been his monkey. We made Monkey together, when he was about a year old, and like most children, he chose a stuffed animal, at random, to latch onto. So, he does have some sense of sentimentality. But, other than that, like most (autistic) children, his idea of what's treasure, and of what is important, is fleeting, but fierce.  

For example, yesterday, he insisted that we bury a dead butterfly that we found on a walk. He was so devastated when we found its ragged body that he cried the whole way home, cradling it gently in his hand. It was quite ridiculous, frankly. How do you comfort a child about a dead bug that he found in the street? It’s not like he found a dead hobo.

I wanted to be comforting, but also not to encourage these kinds of dramatic interludes. He was predictably Collin though; he got distracted by a box fort in the garage, when he went to find the hand trowel. Like I said, his idea of what’s important is fleeting.

He’s no different than any other child in this way; when he sees something exciting, he’s drawn to it. The only difference is his level of of fixation. And sometimes, his fixations come at the cost of what others might deem, actually important. He might talk only about one subject for weeks on end, for example. And I do mean, only about that subject.

But, to be honest, I also wasn’t capable of writing such a letter. How can a mother say, with finality, that this is the last time that she loves her son? I’m not even good at saying goodnight for the last time, each night. No wonder he pops out of bed ten times, just to get one more kiss.

I could never write that good-bye down. Whatever I said, whatever words I chose, it would never be enough. There aren’t enough treasure words in the language to express how much love he needs from me; or how much he’d need from me after I would be gone. There wasn’t a way to express how much I felt that I would need to give him, enough to last the lifetime that I’d be missing.

In this collection of gathered detritus is a discarded hair tie (gross), beads, random plastic jewels, a jump ring, and other pieces of flotsam, all found on the ground, and all very special.

In this collection of gathered detritus is a discarded hair tie (gross), beads, random plastic jewels, a jump ring, and other pieces of flotsam, all found on the ground, and all very special.

Language is a powerful tool. We have words for everything, but we don’t have words to express the pain, and the frustration of this. There’s the enduring story of how Eskimos have a hundred words for snow (they really only have 50); so, why is there only one word for love? And, why is there no word for this kind of love, and this kind of desperate need to express it? And, it certainly seems like there should be a separate word for the fierce devotion that parents have for their children.

I Googled terminal moms who’d left letters for each year, each birthday, each milestone. But, I couldn’t figure out a way to express my love in a way that was right for him. Collin is different. His milestones will be different. Will he go to Prom? Will he get married? Will his milestone be that he wins a Nobel prize, instead? I dream big for him; and, shouldn’t I? What if I write him a trite letter that tells him to pin a corsage on his date, and to be chivalrous; but, not about how proud I am of him, as he takes the oath of office, either as President, or as an FBI agent, as he’s so keen on becoming lately?

While these women’s stories were touching, they seemed like a Lifetime movie; they were foreign and unreal. Collin isn’t all the way done yet; how can I write to him in the future? All I know about my ten-year-old, fourteen-year-old, or twenty-year-old version of him is that I’m proud of him and that I love him. Letters to that version of him are otherwise blank. His path is unpredictable, just like Collin. One of the reasons I love him so much, and treasure every second of every day with him, is that he surprises me.

My shy boy, who clings to the idea that to go unnoticed is the key to life, came home during the last week of school and announced, as he climbed into my lap for comfort, “I told Alex S. that I like-like her.” He boldly, without comment, and full of bravery, announced his crush to a girl. She ran away screaming, of course, and thus ensued a great game of chase, because, after all, they are nine. He’s full of these kinds of surprises. How do I predict what letters to put in a little lifetime file-box for him?

This puts aside that that I will miss all of those things; and, that he’ll miss me. How could he know, in words that don’t exist, that I love him so fiercely that I’d imagined that the only reason that I was so sick was because I made a deal with the universe, trading all the pain he’d ever face for an infinite amount of pain and suffering for me. Some days, it was the only way to endure my suffering, to imagine that it was so he wouldn’t have any. It made me feel willing to take any amount of pain, with bravery, despite knowing the deal was imaginary. If I had to die, to leave him, the only way for me to be okay with it, was to tell myself that it was for him.

But, how was I going to write goodbye, when I knew that I wasn’t going to be there to explain it to him, to help him navigate how difficult it would be to face it alone? It was a paradox to explain in words. He’d need me to help him be without me. How could I guide him through it?

I didn’t want him to hold a letter, even if he was old enough, or if he knew it was a treasure, because that would mean that he knew it was all I had to say. I didn’t want him to feel alone, when those words weren’t enough. I imagined him holding a letter, and I didn’t want him to read my words, and not have my arms around him, when he’d already faced so many years without them, and had so many left to go.

So, I didn’t write the letter. And, if I have another surgery, I probably won’t write one then either. I love my son too much to say goodbye to him. Instead, before both surgeries, I crawled into bed with him, and held him, for hours. I stared at his face, and stroked his not-so-little-anymore-head. We chatted and giggled about farts, puns and tickles, until we fell asleep. If anything were ever to happen, that’s what I hope he remembers; I hope he remembers that the last thing I wanted to do was be with him, for as long as I possibly could, and that I wanted to fall asleep, with him in my arms.

Oh, and to say good-bye to Bryon? That’s literally impossible. It’s like saying goodbye to yourself. For both surgeries, as they wheeled me away, I screamed, “I love you!” over and over again, until it went dark. It’s just too ridiculous to say goodbye to your own soul, so I won’t even mention it.

Love you, Pumpkin-Butt.

Love you, Pumpkin-Butt.