Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Walking the Fence

“Pal, get your butt in here, right now!” That’s what I used to yell out just to get him to come down off the fence outside the tiny apartment we shared, but secretly, I always laughed and I admired his skill and grace at navigating that fence as if he were a world-class gymnast instead of just an ordinary cat.

Palomine was the personification of his name, he was my Pal and he was all mine. Back in 1991, At the ripe old age of 24 I decided that I would have a pet, my first pet, well, really, he decided he would have me. I helped Pal into this world and had to ultimately tie off his umbilical cord as a stray cat gave birth to him and his four siblings in my front room, both she and I were novices and obviously didn’t know what we were doing. They all survived and went on to other homes, all except the little one with the “quarter” on his chin, the tiny black perfect circle under his mouth that would grow as he grew and max out at the size of a quarter....I’ve got your quarter! the silly game he and I would often play as I bit and grabbed that circle. Pal and I soon became best friends and I must have been in a Honeymooners phase at the time because Palomine was named for Art Carney’s bellowing Ralphie, oh palomine.

Pal was my first pet, the first creature that was my responsibility and although I’m sure I made mistakes along the way, Pal was always there to hang out with, to comfort me when I was down, to just be there. When Pal was about two years old, I endured the first real break-up in my life and he was there to lick my tears from my cheeks until I laughed, he was there when I moved into my first apartment, my first “alone” apartment, one without roommates or boyfriends and it was just me and him, my fence-walking daredevil. Pal had his share of scrapes, twice he had to have surgery for neck injuries, once when he climbed under a car hood and once when the neighborhood cat beat him up. It was the second surgery that brought my Pal down from that fence and inside for good.

The years passed too slowly in many aspects, too quickly in others, and Pal was there for it all.
I thought my heart would break in two pieces the night I took him to be boarded for the week of my honeymoon, he and I had never been apart for so long and I recall the first thing I did upon my return was to go find my Pal. Pal was twelve years old before he finally made a new friend, a friend with whiskers and four paws just like him, a second cat for my household and even after that long of him being the little king, he took it in stride and soon he became best friends with yet a third cat, Sugar who arrived when Pal was fourteen years old. Although I’ve acquired other cats and now a dog from my post-Katrina rescue experiences, Pal never quite bonded with anyone else like he did with Sugar, a cat that I call the evil twin....Pal was a black and white tuxedo and a good cat, Sugar was solid white with an all black tail and quite Pal’s opposite, the little mean man in the house. But they loved each other and isn’t that what matters?

After Pal turned 17 last Spring, I started seeing signs, signs that meant he was nearing the time when he would be ready to move on. Although he has suffered vestibular incidents shortly before Katrina, and his eyes became a tad cloudy, Pal always bounced back, always seemed to rally for another day and always wanted more than his fare share of food, he was such a glutton, for everything. I mentally calculated that quality of life equation last year and for Pal it was food, his Sugar, and outdoors in the large screened enclosure which my cats have access to through their bedroom window. Pal was old, sure, and my husband used to make fun of the little old cat, but Pal was still kicking, still living life, still my Palomine. But I knew we were on borrowed time.

Palomine left this world for another at approximately 7:30 p.m. on the evening of Tuesday, June 9, 2009, much the same way he came into it, with my help. Pal’s quality of life equation was coming up zero in the past few days and it was fast, faster than I would have imagined it and that’s all I could do because Pal was my first. Several weeks ago, I had noticed Pal’s wobbliness, his distance from Sugar as he sat alone in the enclosure most days, but he still charged over to be the first at the food, especially canned food and he still seemed to enjoy basking in the sunlight, but I knew it wouldn’t be long. Only days ago, I noticed Pal was no longer making trips to the enclosure and was instead opting to stay on the couch all day and then the final quality of life, the thing he seemed to always live most for in this world, canned food, was gone. Before he licked a few tiny pieces of some food yesterday morning, I looked into my Palomine’s eyes and he was no longer there. I have always heard people say “you’ll know” or “they’ll give you that look” and what I saw from my best friend wasn’t a look as much as it was no longer a look, my Pal was no longer there and in my heart, I knew it was time. Although I cried the entire way to the emergency clinic, when it came time, I think I was there as much as I could be for my buddy. Did I want to be there until he went to sleep? Because he might do this and his body might do, I wanted to be there until the end, the very end, how could I not be, he had been there with me all these years and now, it was my turn to comfort him. In the end, I don’t know how much comfort I was to him, he was barely there, but in that tiny moment of clarity, in that final moment when I stole his quarter for one last time, I have to believe that being there mattered.

So now all I am left with is the grief, but how could I have imagined that this grief would be so different, so filling, so almost, satisfying? As a rescuer, I have faced grief many times, grief when we lost one, grief when we couldn’t save one, grief when we couldn’t catch one, couldn’t find a home for one, sometimes, endless grief, and surely, this grief I prepared myself for would be unbearable, all other griefs magnified, wouldn’t it be? It wasn’t and it isn’t, it’s a grief that I wouldn’t trade for all the happiness in the world, because this grief is so intertwined in happiness that it can’t be separated from it. On the return drive to the shelter, this time as I cradled my Palomine wrapped in his blanket, I still cried, but I remember laughing too at parts of the conversation, how could that be? I think that the grief that I often face as a rescuer is always intertwined with the feeling of failure, my own, never theirs, at being unable to do more and so that grief is hollow. When I was able to help my Palomine at the moment he needed it most, that completed the eighteen years of a journey, one that was a happy journey, even if that journey did eventually have to end. If all those other griefs were feelings of hollowness, this was the first filling grief, the first grief that I know I will have to and can face again when the time comes.

Right before Pal’s final moments last night, the vet tech said something to me that today as I reflect upon it, the thought makes me smile....she told me that he would be right there forever as she patted my left shoulder......could that be true, would Pal now and forever be my own personal guardian angel? Well, if that’s true, what about that Rainbow Bridge I’ve always heard so much about? How could he possibly be on the other side of the bridge and on my shoulder too? Now, I can’t do anything but laugh because if anyone can do it, it’s my Palomine.....navigating that fence just like the perfect feline gymnast he always was. And while I want to yell at him so badly “Pal, get your butt in here” I know I can’t, but I know that my friend will walk this fence perfectly and I guess I should have known that my Pal would have the last word on that matter.