Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jinx keeps looking at his water bowl. Yesterday he went into the bathroom and peed on the bathmat, which, in contrast to Kitty Girl's decimation of my bedroom rug during her final weeks, is considerate. In my mind I imagine he observed me giving her a hard time about peeing next to my bed, and thus does his best to avoid upsetting me. I'm not sure, but I think the reason he's in the bathroom in the first place, never one of his regular destinations, is that he's trying to drink from the toilet. On occasion in the past he could maneuver himself onto the toilet seat and lower his head into the bowl for a fresh taste of water. Eric told me that cats like their water to not be next to their food, and so for his cats, he places water bowls throughout the apartment. It makes me think of lions on the plains of Africa on TV, the muddy little puddles where all the animals congregate. I imagine the half-eaten corpse of an antelope rotting and tainting the water, and in my mind I assemble the logic of time worn cat habits passing down from generation to generation.

Right now he's drinking from the little white bowl by the back leg of the chair. I'm sitting here with him, above him on the same chair, in front of the heater while he sits on the edge of the pile of blankets and towels set between the radiator and the space heater. When I take a drink of water from my clear plastic water bottle, he looks up at the water in the bottle, and then looks at me. He looks back to his water bowl. I take another drink and the same sequence occurs. So I take him into the kitchen and pump saline into him. It's his last night on earth unless he starts eating. Two nights ago, after resisting for a long time, I finally force fed him, watering down some beef paté and sucking it into a wide nozzled syringe. I put the syringe into the corner of his mouth, forcing it open though Jinx resists little, and shoot the 10ml of brackish liquid towards the back of this throat. I do this four times, making it through about a quarter of a small can of cat food. About three hours later, in the middle of the night, he throws it all up into a puddle on the hardwood floor.

He must be so thirsty. I can't imagine what that's like, but I imagine that when he looks to me, he's telling me he's thirsty, and asking me to do something about it. "Please take care of me." But there's little I can do. And I hope he understands that. It's these moments of alertness, when he looks at me with a question in his eyes, that trick me into thinking there is more to do. That I should do, and I remind myself that I am his caretaker, and of what needs to happen. A year and some months earlier, taking care of Kitty Girl in her last days was a learning process; and though I did my best, I probably let her go on a little bit longer than I should of. The night before I put her down I asked Stacy, my neighbor who is a vet, to come up and take a look. Stacy picked her up and put her skinny body on my dining room table, performing a quick veterinary exam. Pushing her fingers into KG's body, her belly and undercarriage, looking at her teeth and into her mouth. KG smelled and her fur was unclean, and there was little piece of cat litter stuck to her nose. “I think it's time,” said Stacy, telling me what I needed to hear.


I took Jinx to the vet today to be put to sleep. In the morning we stayed in bed and when he got up, I got up. I brushed and flossed and came back to find him standing by the heater. Most days in the past, when I got up he would stand by the bathroom door, or sit on the bathmat, waiting for me to finish and go into the kitchen and feed him. It was our routine, and I think we both enjoyed it. Today, as it's been since he stopped eating, he went and sat by the heater. It was off. I looked at him and he looked at me. I turned it on, and went off to complete tasks. I called the vet to make an appointment, ate breakfast and wrote a few emails. Ola texted and said she wanted to see Jinx and give him a pet before he went off to the vet, and I spent the next hour before she got there sitting with my back against the radiator next to Jinx, petting him with my left hand and scrolling and typing with the right. This is the thing that Jinx and I did together most often, though usually this occurred on the couch with the computer on my lap, reading and writing while he sat next to me.

He purred as I pet him. I tried and failed to remove the bit of dried food or vomit that had been stuck to the corner of his mouth for the last four days, too old and dry to untangle itself from the white fur on his lower jaw. At this point it didn't seem to matter. He was always better at grooming himself than I was. But he seemed happy which was impressive considering that he hadn't eaten for sometime and was breathtakingly skinny. We sat in the heat and enjoyed the morning by the big window in the dining room. It was a sunny day, and though the light didn't touch us, it fell on the table and the entry way to the kitchen and it was warm and comfortable and not unlike the many mornings that had come before. I didn't cry, and Jinx didn't do anything but occasionally lift his head up to direct my hand to a more pleasurable zone, or stand up and slowly reposition himself next to me and the space heater.

Ola came by and we sat for twenty minutes, chatted, talked about Jinx, his condition as I understood it. She'd heard it before, that he wasn't eating, was severely dehydrated and unable to absorb water due to the advanced state of his kidney disease, had hyperthyrodism and a urinary track infection; all of which were being treated by different drugs and saline injections. None of which I administered the previous day asides from the saline. After consulting with his vet, our friend and neighbor Alfonso, I decided that Monday would be the day, and there was no point in smearing cream on his ears and shooting antibiotics into his mouth anymore. He refused food to the point of walking out of the kitchen as soon as I opened a can of cat food. The only thing he seemed to want was water, and his body was done absorbing it. Jinx is a tough cat, so part of him doesn't notice, so focused as he is on having an excellent day. But he was making decisions about not eating, was dehydrated, and it was only going to get worse. “It's the humane thing,” said Alfonso.


I went out and started my car to warm it up. I went back inside, and got out the big cat box that Jinx flew in when he came here from California. On top of the box are labels, still affixed from KG and Jinx's travels across the country. One of them is written in Dara's handwriting; our addresses, an official declaration of the boxes' contents, using words like “consignee,” and other statements of pet health in airport legalese. Dara wrote two hearts, one on each side of my name, and every time I look at it I feel a small jolt of warm nostalgia. There is another label however, which I think Amy made, judging by the unabashed personification of cat voice, that makes me happy and sad, simultaneously:

Buried in the living room closet under a pile of empty cardboard boxes is Kitty Girl's box, which is a little bit smaller and of a different color. Her label reads, “My name is Kitty Girl, please take care of me. I'm with Jinx.” Happy because it's true, and is still true in a way. They were together and symbiotic most of their lives. Sad because. Sad because I don't know, and I don't have the words to describe it. I grabbed one of the new towels that my sister had given me for Christmas, tags still attached, and put it into the box. I put on my coat, zipped it up, and picked up Jinx. I kissed him, cried a little, hugged him, and put him into the box.

On the car ride over I opened the boxes' cage door and he came out. Stood on my lap and looked out the window, his shaky legs searching for stability amongst the constant jostling of the road. After a few minutes he got back in the box. When we got to the vet they took us into one of their examination rooms, two wooden chairs, a metal table jutting out from the wall, a counter top with a sink against one wall, and some cabinets above. There were two books on the counter top, big colorful children's books, one about about dog heaven and the other about cat heaven. I let Jinx out on the floor and he roamed, inspecting the room. After about five minutes Alfonso came in and explained how the procedure was going to work: first there would be an injection of a sedative which would render Jinx incontinent, and then about five minutes after the sedative had completely taken effect, another shot would be administered, straight into his heart, and it would be fatal. Alfonso asked if I wanted more time with Jinx before the first shot, and I said yes, and he said that he'd be back in about ten minutes. At this point Jinx was on the metal examination table, sitting and looking around. He was slightly agitated but continued to sit. As Alfonso put it later, he didn't seem to have any idea about what was going to happen.

I petted Jinx, spoke quietly in his ear, told him that I loved and admired him, thanked him for being such a good friend, and for taking care of me, especially over the last couple of years in Indiana. He purred, and for the last time I got that little dopamine rush of love from him that had become an everyday part of my life. I leaned over from the chair I was in, buried my face into the white fur on his chest, and hugged him and cried. I sat up, and for the first time since Kitty Girl died, I said her name out loud: “Kitty Girl. We're going to go see Kitty Girl,” and his ears perked up, and he looked around the room, checking the corners and the door. For the last year I never once said her name in his presence, not wanting to prolong any hope that she was still around. The only time I ever saw Jinx despondent was that first month after she died, slouched and constantly yowling and searching the apartment. There was a sad question that hung in his eyes during that time, and I was saving the act of saying her name aloud until I could provide an answer. There is an idea in Buddhism that the quality of one's last thought before death is the quality one carries with them into the next life. I imagined the river we all return to, and the thought of Kitty Girl acting like a beacon in the formless rush of death.


Alfonso came in along with an assistant to administer the first shot. They injected the sedative into his back leg, and left me alone with him. I picked him up and held him as the sedative took over. He kept smacking his mouth, as if all of his saliva had dried up and he was trying to jump start its production. He was still alive, but there's no telling where his mind had gone. His eyes were wide and fearful. After some struggle, his body relaxed and became limp. “Jinx and Kitty Girl, Sweet Jinx, Jinky...” I said as he drifted into incontinence. Soon Alfonso and the assistant came back, they took him from my arms, laid him onto the table, and administered the second shot. I took some comfort in believing that he wasn't able to fully feel the needle sliding into his heart. They left again, and at this point Jinx was on his way out. I sat with my hands on Jinx's still warm body. Five minutes later, Alfonso came back and with a stethoscope listened to Jinx's heart, still barely beating. His system had been running for so long, and predictably, for Jinx, always a fighter, it took some time to wind down. After a couple more minutes it was done. Alfonso scooped Jinx's body up in the towel that Jinx had been laying on, and took him out of the room. Before they left I arranged with Alfonso to have the vet send me the bill, and I walked straight out of the office, got into my car, went home to my apartment and started writing this story.

The first couple weeks I was constantly reminded that he wasn't here. Not when I ascend the stairs with my bike over my shoulder, sleeping on my bed or by the radiator or on the couch. Not in the kitchen waiting for me to feed him, or walking into my office with his crooked body, head tilted to maintain the balance he lost after his stroke four years ago, coming to see me and what I'm up to in my office. Not on the couch sitting between Cory and Eric when we're playing music, or intensely staring at me from across the room for reasons I can't imagine. When I walk through my apartment I open my mouth to speak, to say something to him, something just to say, or say his name, or do a little song and dance, and I'm reminded that he's not there to bear witness, and I fall silent. My audience for casual speech, the everyday and thoughtless blabber perpetually emanating from the brain, always talking and in love with itself and its talking, is no longer here. The constant interaction him and I shared is an absence I can feel. If one thinks of endorphins, the little biological pleasures one gets from touch, from being touched and talked to, the physiological structures of our identity, the sudden disappearance of these pleasures is akin to withdrawal from any kind of addiction. It's tempting to seek a quick fix. Like Methadone in place of Heroin, people ask me if I'm going to get another cat. “No, I don't think so. I'd like to see what life is like without one for a while.”

Jink, Jinky, Jinxman...I'd say all three in row directly into his ear in succession, my hand simultaneously scratching his chin and his other ear from the other side. I wanted to remind him of who he was to me, to build associations of pleasure with the words I used to call him. Like a lover calling out the others name as they ascend together, the work of imbuing language with meaning, every word a potential storehouse of limitless memory and feeling. He would call me too, a particular yowl when he wanted me to come over and pet him, and four out of five times I would comply, happy to be wanted. Say my name, say my name, and it's not like any of this was premeditated, but these were the habits we fell into. To be wanted, and the repetition of this want carving out a path in not just in the heart or the brain, but in the body of the everyday. I speak, or think to speak out of habit, and stop myself from doing so. The thousands of times I turned my head as I rounded the corner to see if he was sitting on the couch. The anticipation of pleasure as I look up from my morning sit to see him sleeping in the warm depression of where my body had been. It is not these thoughts or habits in and of themselves that are painful, but the minute and constant stifling of my impulse to connect. Writing is one way to rewrite these impulses, and thus, I write,