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RIPOSTE

by RIP RENSE

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One year B.C.
       "He prayeth best, who loveth best, all things both great and small."---Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
(July 21, 2004)

       I still see B.C. the cat out of the corner of my eye, usually as I sit here typing. I catch a glimpse of his black fluffy frame in the hallway, peripherally, about 3 p.m.. Yellow eyes wide and faintly irritated. I know he's waiting there, bored, right on schedule, wondering why I sit here all the time. (As do I.) And I know I'll get up in moment, put him in my lap and massage his aching old back.
        Then I turn my head and remember that he's gone. A year ago, July 19.
        B.C. was a solid gentleman, a steady, stoic, easygoing creature of self-respect and restraint. Perhaps that's a lot to say for a cat, but I don't think so. He considered himself an equal in this household, and was treated accordingly. Why not? His habits, unlike mine, were pretty inoffensive (except for the occasional cat-box olfactory assault), and it worked out pretty well. Oh, he and I had our rough patch, grudgingly accepting one another at first---after all, he'd been here nine years before I arrived---but that ironed out.
        In the end, he would even sit on my lap once in a while.
        Our routines, of course, were closely tied, as we were both homebodies and cohabitants. That's how it is with animal roommates, I guess. But I only recently figured that out that there was a little more to it. . .
        A couple years back, we had to leave the old guy alone for almost a week---a rare occurrence, and one that worried me, because of his age. A good friend  volunteered to drop by daily and dish out kibble, and "cat-sit" a little, and I carefully explained the daily schedule---right down to the "morning workout," where I used massage and "catrobatics" (I should patent them) to get B.C.'s blood flowing. He didn't complain, and let me do all manner of undignified things, including hanging him upside down by his hind legs. I suppose he considered such things to be the price of living with the Tall Male One.
        Yet when my cat-sitting friend tried exactly the same maneuvers, B.C. hissed and snarled and actually tried to bite her! The only thing I ever knew him to bite was cat food.
        So it seems that he trusted me, a realization that leaves me surprised and touched---and disdainful of people who carry on about the "unconditional love" of animals. As if dumb beasts are just helpless against the overwhelming charms of humans (cough.) Wrong! It is a decidedly, non-negotiably conditional love. Cats, dogs, birds, whatever---they make a deal with you: you treat me kindly, and I will trust you.
        I really should have known this, given how close B.C. and I became during his last months. This nonagenarian (feline years) was terminally ill with a mouth cancer that would eventually prevent him from eating, and necessitate calling Dr. Catvorkian. The terrible irony was that the rest of him was spiffy; except for the mouth tumor, you wouldn't have known he was ill, or even elderly.
        So Annie, his cherished "cat mom," and I dedicated ourselves to maintaining his quality of life as long as possible during that time, and mostly we succeeded.
        There was one awful day when he collapsed--- probably a side-effect of an anti-inflammatory---only to be revived in an emergency room with fluids and vitamins. This jump-started him for a day or two, but it didn't hold, and a second breakdown came while Annie was out of town on business. I figured the old guy was done for, and fretted about whether to get him euthanized then and there, even before Cat Mom had a chance to see him again. Yet B.C. hung on, on the brink of death, for three dreadful nights, unable to so much as lift his head. I syringe fed him chicken soup and baby food, administered I.V.'s of saline and vitamins, and slept with one hand never leaving his thinning frame.
        And by golly, the old boy came around and had another full month of spry, good life. I'm certain he hung in there in order to see Annie again. Who wouldn't?

B.C. never was traditionally cat-like; Annie says that even in youth, he was just a kind of nonchalant Ferdinand-the-bull stop-and-sniff-the-roses type.

       For about 95 percent of B.C.'s last four months in this realm, he was happy and comfortable. No---better than that. I'd say much of that time was probably among the most interesting of his life.
        You see, he became a cat of the world.
        B.C. was an "indoor pet," as the expression goes. The advantages are a long, pleasant life and good health, but it is heartbreaking to see animals staring balefully out windows at the gorgeous, vivacious Earth, with its waving flowers and darting birds, wondering why they aren't more a part of it. They must wonder about that, right?
        So I resolved that for his last days, our gentle compadre would become a man about town.
        At first, he and I ventured out tentatively, for short walks. Stepping beyond the gate proved a bit startling at first (as it often does to me), but to my surprise, he soon grew blasť about it. A few feet up and down the sidewalk became sojourns to the corner, and eventually all the way around the block.
        B.C. explored gardens with aplomb, contentedly parking himself among succulents and ferns as I sat on nearby cinderblock walls, or plodding across a dandelion-ridden lawn to investigate a front porch, creeping under a hedge to see what mysteries might lie hidden there, emerging covered in dust and cobwebs. . .
        Who says you can't teach an old cat new tricks? Although he'd never been beyond the garden wall downstairs, this creature instantly reckoned the neighborhood layout; he knew exactly how to get back to terra cognita. Set down a block away, around a corner, the lifelong "indoor pet" would march purposefully homeward, all the way back to the front gate (looking over his shoulder and meowing once in a while, obviously to make sure I didn't get lost.)
        Mostly, though, he just strode along beside me on the sidewalk. Tottering a bit some days, stalling out in his last week, when I had to carry him, but for the most part, strolling along, side by side. Fearlessly, casually. Passers-by stared, and some stopped to ask, "why doesn't he run away?" I didn't have an answer. B.C. never was traditionally cat-like; Annie says that even in youth, he was just a kind of nonchalant Ferdinand-the- bull stop-and-sniff-the-roses type. This was a "when in Rome" deal, I figure. The Tall Male One walks, so I guess I walk, too.
        We even took Ferdinand out to sniff flowers in a local park on occasion, where he watched in wide-eyed wonder as kids swung on swing-sets and adults played soccer, and delighted in tiny bits of turkey stripped out of Subway sandwiches. (Fine cat food.)
        In a sort of coup de grace, I took him to the beach. Why? Ask my cousin, Katie. It was her idea. She's a veterinarian and says that it just seems right, somehow, that animals should get a look at the ocean. Maybe for the same reasons humans need to get a look at a sky full of stars. To see the Big Everything, and feel awe. Or maybe just to smell all that fish. . .
        So I escorted the little fellow, in his waning days, in the evening of his life, to the Venice Beach, and there we would sit in late afternoon: me on the sand, B.C. in his carrier, door open, aimed toward the gently breaking waves, lilting sea gulls, twinkly sun sparks on the open sea.
      A couple of times, I carried him down to the water's edge, where he stared intently---again, to my surprise, without noticeable fear---and after a moment, asked to be put down (with a gentle push of the hind legs.) Faced with the entire Pacific Ocean, what does a cat do? Well, this one paused, took a few steps, sniffed the air, then turned and headed slowly back to the carrier. I couldn't blame him. It's much nicer to watch the Big Everything from the comfort of a nice blanket inside a carrier, with the sun warming your back through the wire-mesh roof. . .
        And thus his life came to an end.
        There is an Asian folk Buddhist superstition that a person does not realize he is dead at first; that his or her spirit hangs around until the third day, when a ceremony is held to bid the spirit entrance to "heaven."
        Two mornings after B.C. departed, I was awakened at 5 a.m. sharp by his voice. He often sat next to the bed and woke me this way, either with a gentle and polite mew, or the "get up and feed me, goddamn it" yowl. On this morning, I was shocked wide awake into bolt-upright position by the "get up and feed me, goddamn it" yowl. I heard it.
        Then, on the night after the third day, I had a dream that B.C. the cat was back at his food dish, in his familiar spot in the kitchen, eating contentedly, something he had been unable to do for many weeks.
        Sounds like heaven to me.

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