Today I gave a talk to 30 lovely church women at the venerable old First Baptist Church of Lexington MA and the weather was again terrible only this time it was raining little needles and the day had dawned snowy so the walking was awful.
But the second I walked into the basement of that old church I felt happy.
Church basements all have that same great smell and the Sunday school rooms looked so dear with their wee tables and chairs and some old hooked rugs and bright yellow walls.
When I found the main gathering place the ladies were just tucking into a hot lunch that one of them had put together all on her own: pans of ravioli with sausage and broccoli; Caesar salad; baskets of bread; and home-made carrot cake. I had said I wouldn’t eat the latter but it smelled so much like childhood and a school cafeteria I thought How can I not? and so sat down.
I was the only outsider of course and they did the nicest thing they could have done while smiling warmly at me from time to time: they went on with their regular conversations which let me see right into their lives. This one was having trouble with her dog. That one was going crazy because her husband is always saying she doesn’t talk loud enough. A third one leans forward to say that she was born in this town made famous by a Revolution and still lives on what remains of the family farm. Her mother, in her late 90s, lives there too.
She and the woman beside her described exactly how this town still seemed even just 60 or 70 years ago: pastoral. Quiet. Like the farm town it was before 1775.
The talk and the rain outside took me back I think and when it was time for me to rise and talk for 40 minutes I talked about that past too and these great women laughed and sighed and remembered back too.
I told them what was next for me; how three hours after I got done with them I would be unpacking a picnic in a cemetery as night fell. The picnic was my romantic notion and I’d invited to it a lady 60 and a lady 80.
I’m writing this at 3pm. I have made a beef stew and a salad of Boston lettuce with almonds and berries for this picnic. I have sourdough bread and some cookies, wee little oranges and two kinds of wine, a straw picnic basket and some elegant stemware, fresh-brewed coffee and two thermoses that between them cost 50 whole bucks because they’re guaranteed to keep hot things hot for 24 hours.
We’ll see I guess. But the cemetery we are going to is Mt. Auburn, such a beautiful place rain or shine that I’ve been thinking lately it’s the place where my man and I will one day go for keeps, where all day and all night we can look up at its wonderful trees and imagine that we too can still feel the rain on our faces, steely-needled or soft, and the snow when it snows and the strengthening vernal sun.
Once you get used to high drama you begin creating it all around you, ever notice? I’m noticing it today and wondering if in fussing over this poor post-operative cat of mine I didn’t start turning into someone really odd like this little person you can see by double clicking on these words. Or like that old Bouvier lady who lived with her crazy daughter and a million cats in that tumbledown house in the Hamptons. (You’ve heard of Grey Gardens right? and the two of them spending day and night in this one messy bedroom eating ice cream right from the carton while the cats ate their cat food right from the can and circled and stank and wove in and out like snakes?
I’m thinking now that I maybe HAVE gone a wee bit OVERBOARD with worry over my poor kitty with his stitches.
I got him home from his second trip to the world’s most elaborate quadruped cat hospital and 24 hours later he still hadn’t wet for me, which I knew very well because the doctors had said in no uncertain terms to mind his comings goings, as it were. “Put him in the bathroom for these three weeks, where he won’t be tempted to jump up and hurt his stitches,” they said. “ And keep an eye on him at all times. “
“So what, I should sleep in the tub” I asked.
“Ha ha, well ya, kind of.”
Instead I put him in a back room here in a special doggy bed with a hot water bottle and this worked fine after the first hospitalization. After this second visit though things took a downturn. I crept into his sickroom at 7am today and he was up on the brand new ottoman, and gave me that look, you know the one? “Yeah I’m on the furniture and sure I bled on it a little but fuck you, know what I ‘m sayin’?
Naturally it’s a shock when you’re cat swears at you but the worse news was that he hadn’t gone to the bathroom AT all. His litterbox was dry as a bone.
And when I lifted him oh so gently and placed him in there, he got right out again.
Then, when I carried him to our, bathroom normally a palace of beauty and order now crowded with tuna-flavored cat meds and a food dish and a SECOND litterbox and tried putting him in that, he lay right down in it as if to say “I will sleep in this thing and I will DIE in this thing before I use it the way you want me to use it.”
That’s when I panicked and called the hospital. “He’s blocked again!” I said. “Even with a giant stoma in place of his little garden hose, he can’t pee !”
“Someone will call you right back,” they said
But could I wait? I could not. I put him right in the car and started for the place so when they did call back and say “Bring him in, Mrs. Marotta, by all means bring him right in,” I’d be in the door like a flash. I was literally in the parking lot and on the actual brink of hustling him inside when I suddenly thought Wait a minute T. This is gonna be 200 bucks more. JUST IN CASE why don’t you drive over to Target and buy YET ANOTHER kitty toilet and even more paper towels on account of how he absolutely can’t let regular litter touch his little underside. Let’s so this and just see if he’ll go to the bathroom that way, right in the back of my nice little minivan.
So I turned around and headed for Target and ten minutes later was back in the car with the goods . I let Abe out of his cage and placed him in this newest rest room. And gain I got the look. And then … and then …he noted a little spilled litter from a week ago when I’d bought a 400 pound sack of the stuff because nobody told me he wasn’t going to be able to use it…. A teensy dusting was spilled on the rug in the way-back…. And this he saw. And this he took a sniff of , scratched. Took another sniff; scratched some more- and then went to the bathroom both ways right on the rug.
And the scary thing is I was thrilled. I’ll worry tomorrow about the fact that I’ve invited two elegant older ladies to enjoy a kind of indoor picnic at the country’ oldest cemetery with me right in this very car on Thursday.
Because you know it as well I do: cucumber sandwiches and sherry under the sheltering trees in a gorgeous historic venue are all very well. And I know we will have a lovely lovely time. But having a pet who can find relief when relief has long eluded him – well that’s even better. So crack open a can of tuna and bring on the Mocha Almond, Aby babe. Tonight in our porcelain palace we are CELBRATING !
It was a hell of a week between hosting all those Shakespeare enthusiasts and giving First Aid to our little boycat Abe – and then 30 minutes before that big soiree began I got told I had to bring him BACK to the hospital for some critical care. He just had no interest in eating and drinking. He just sat in his doggy bed looking resigned. Abe HAS a doggy bed instead of a kitty bed for two reasons. Because (a) are you kidding, cats don’t have kitty beds, they have YOUR bed; and (b) he’s such a wild man ordinarily that we had to buy the bigger, doggy-style bed and then stick it inside a giant metal rabbit hutch because it’s the only way we can transport him without having him undergo a total freak-out. And sure we feel like crazy peopled carrying around something the size of a doghouse but it’s the only way we can keep from going stark raving mad with a cat yowling on the seat beside us. In this cage he can see where he’s going and that calms him down some. Here in his sickroom I’ve taken the cage part off and put a fate up at the door. I figure it gives him something soft to sit on instead of just having a bare floor in his solitary confinement.
The next morning when it was time to go back to the animal ER I couldn’t face that gigantic contraption. It was just too big and me alone with the chore. Instead I put him in soft sided gym-bag of a cat carrier, the kind cat-owners use, the kind his meek sister Charlotte rides in without complaint but we weren’t half a mile into the journey when he started fighting his way out. First, his head nose emerged. Then his head popped up like a jack in the box head. When his shoulders began emerging it seemed to me like childbirth all over again and he with him struggling so mightily I just started laughing. “Abe I’m going to lose control of the car and we’re BOTH going to die! “My blood is on your head Abraham!” I was yelling as I pressed on that small stubborn head.
But we didn’t die. We got to the hospital where the lovely internist spoke gravely of steroids and feeding tubes, of possible bone marrow investigations and I don’t know WHAT else, all because Abe’s red blood cell count was still dropping. I was there for four hours while they went back and forth with the tests and the deliberation, four hours as they finally took me into the back room to clue me in as to the actual dollars involved.
So Abe stayed another two nights and God bless him began making his way back to relative health with just a blood transfusion and an appetite stimulant.
As I drove away without him Wednesday I felt guilty relief. 15 minutes before the Shakespeare lovers has arrived the night I was in my nastiest clothes and covered with cat hair. Luckily our girl Annie came to do her magic with the food. While we read the play she squeezed heavenly substances out of a pastry cone and dragged bits if roast lamb through a trail of gorgonzola melt. Then when the reading was done, her dad appeared and started opening wine bottles. The Shakespeareans loved the wines and the foods and positively inhaled the traditional hot chocolate and at evening’s end announced they were coming to this house every month, never mind once a year.
I had a great time talking with them all, these men and women in their 60s, 70s and 80s but the nicest moment came when I had a minute with the one named Max who did such a great job reading Falstaff last year I remember it every time I see him. Tonight he had also read his part with such expressiveness and verve that I just had to say something.
I love to hear you read Max. In fact I love just seeing you! And you look so great.”
“I’m 97 years old!” he said with merry amazement and I thought to myself this is they way to be! Live to a hundred and go to every party!” And isn’t that what Abe’s trying to do, just a month shy of his 13th birthday in a world that seems to have ‘torn him a new one’ as the saying goes?
He’s home again as if 2 o’clock this afternoon and eating and drinking to beat the band. He has a shaved crotch of course and the fur on his legs where they attached the IV and the catheter are bare still too. And then of course there’s that crazy satellite dish he has around his neck so he won’t bite out his stitches but never mind all that. He’s here. He’s right here next to me on this double-wide chair, curled around a hot water bottle and watching me write.
David‘s in the other room reading the latest New Yorker and I can hear the girl cat Charlotte padding around wondering where the supper is.
Guess I’m starting to wonder that too. Guess it’s time to pull a little food out of the fridge, make a fire in the fireplace and let the weekend settle about us. Here in this house we’re feeling pretty good. Even though our purse is even lighter today than it was on Tuesday that’s OK I think. These two casts are part of our family, same as everyone else.
I feel grateful to both Dr. Haber who sure does know her Internal Medicine, and to Dr. Corti who can whisk off a whole penis like a magician whisks off that special tablecloth, and STILL leave enough in the way of “utensils” for a kitty to process the daily intake.
I’m grateful to Old Dave for opening all those wine bottles, for mixing it up so generally with a bunch of people he’d never laid on eyes before, and just generally for being a man outstanding in his field.
The doctors initially said “Put Abe alone in a small room with a paper-towel-lined litter box and a food source.” But now today they told me “Actually put him in YOUR room so you can watch him.”
So I guess that’s what we’ll try to do here in a couple of hours. But even if he’s loudly at work all night long trying to get around that cone bib and dig at his stitches, still: I’m pretty sure I’m going to sleep like a baby.
Sure it all SEEMS very funny to write about a cat who’s having a penisectomy until you go to the hospital to bring him home and there he is looking so thin and compromised, wearing one of those ridiculous-looking satellite dishes around his neck so he won’t use his little exacto-knife/tweezer teeth to pull out every last one of his stitches.
My junior high history teacher was always telling me to wipe that smile off our faces and helped me do it too, with a hard wooden paddle he used freely, even on us girls, swinging the thing fast to come down hard on the tips of my fingers where even just the one blow stung like you wouldn’t believe.
Well, life wiped that smile of my face 36 hours ago when after six days of IVS and ultrasounds and dips down into the Land of Anesthesia poor Abraham was released at last to my care . Even as I write this he huddles some in isolation some 30 feet away in a back bedroom where he must remain for another 14 days. He cries from time to time but that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is going in there and seeing him: his expression of pained resignation; the way he can’t set his head down or stretch out on his side because of that foolish cone; the way he can’t seem to pee much; how when I lift him ever so gently into my lap to give him some water, which I can only seem to get into him using the syringes his pain meds came in and we have now used up the last of the pain meds. I may have to use my mother’s universal remedy straight from the Emerald Isle and give him whiskey.
I’m kidding about the whiskey, but all my kidding falls flat now. It’s not funny what we have done to save his life. Is it wrong of us to order up these heroic rescues for our animals just because we can’t imagine doing without their sweet company while we shine our shoes or pay the bills or watch TV?
David saw where the surgeons were getting at before I did. He saw our oldest girl on Friday and said to her “I’m not sure but I think Abe is having a sex change operation today.” I thought it was going to just be a couple of catheterizations to drain the bladder then boom he’d be fine and home, trotting through the yard and snacking on his favorite foods.
Tonight because I promised the use my house some 10 months ago, 30 Shakespeare enthusiasts are coming here. We spend three hours reading the play that has been chosen and carefully cast. Then at 10:30 or so the is we adjourn to the dining room of the hosting house to enjoy the collation as has been the custom since the group’s founding in the 19th century when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s brother, and daughter, and grandson were enthusiastic members.
Lucky for me our girl Annie who is a professional chef is coming over after her other, more mainstream 9 to 5 job, to prepare the rest of the food which she began upon over the weekend. This means that in the next several hours all I have to do is go back to the animal hospital to ask them how the HELL to get the cone off just for meals since Abe can’t even get NEAR his food dish without knocking it over. Then I need to get five bags of ice and a little more wine, try to see to it that the whole HOUSE doesn’t smell like animal illness and then have another look at the living room whose furniture we shoved all around last night so that the Shakespeareans can see one another as they read the play aloud.
Then, until around 6 tonight when I have to jump into my pantyhose and start setting out the salted nuts I can sit with the patient, my pal from his babycat days in 1995 when he was a small grey ball of fluff who when he came down our big stairs one a time looked like nothing so much as a Slinky toy. I’ll sit with him and MAYBE try to write a little, but mostly just try be with him I think, as he makes his way through this moment and the next and the next one following, even as we all must do until day comes quick or fast when for us all both time and moments are forever done.
I had to rest for a couple of days. All that jauntiness about our cat that I was trying to maintain didn’t match my real feelings and I would have written lugubrious sentimental things about Pets and All They Do For Us which is true; they do do a lot God knows, God knows, but less is more in the old expression-of-feelings department and I didn’t want to be emoting all over the blogosphere. But he’s coming home today finally after six days in the hospital so I thought maybe I could screw my courage to the sticking point (that’s from Macbeth) and carry on.
We drove up to our place at the lake for the weekend. We brought Abe’s sister here so we could examine our consciences and ask ourselves if we knew how to take care of cats at all. Here is Charlotte now, sitting in her favorite chair under the charcoal portrait of Bob Dylan that our boy Michael did as a junior in high school.
(I know, it looks like a photograph huh? His work is all like that. Only problem: it takes him like three months to finish one drawing.) It was just snowing a minute ago – a quick squall but now that seems to have stopped and the sun is coming out. We have to leave soon but I’m trying to hold back the time. I wanted to go up to my other favorite room here:
and read This Republic of Suffering which is Drew Gilpin Faust’s book new about death and the Civil War, and also write in my poor forgotten paper diary which is getting short shrift lately.
But in five hours I can got get Abe who has had a one prett-y prett-y hard time (say that the way Larry David does on Curb Your Enthusiasm.) They catheterized him as we know but when they took the tube out at midnight one night and watched him the next day he still couldn’t empty his bladder completely. Also, he appears to be anemic but no one knows why. Was it Kitty AIDS? Feline Leukemia? Should they work him up for both? By all mean, yes. Hmmmm, but then the news came that he’s OK in that department so what was the deal? The hours passed; they called twice daily. Now they had to catheterize him again… Finally on Friday they called and said “Let’s do an abdominal ultrasound, because he has to have surgery and we should know what’s in there. It’s the only thing now: a Perineal urethrostomy or PU – which, in fairness, they had told us about the first night Mary and I brought him in.
“With a PU they just reroute the urethra” I thought the young doctor said that first night. “They create a new opening in the perineal area.”( This, in case your mother told you never never to look down there, is the smooth shiny stretch of real estate we all have between the Department of Waste Management and what Shakespeare (Shakespeare again, that show-off!) called the Organs of Increase..)
But I must’ve understood wrong because this time they gave a different explanation. Friday’s doctor said, “Think of it like a garden hose that used to be nine feet long and now we’re gonna make it six feet long, that’s all – because the part of the urethra that gets jammed up is the narrowest part, at the end….
“So we’re going to basically cut off his penis.”
Poor Abe. “First they came for my scrotum when I was too young to measure the loss and now this!” he’d have thought he’d overhead them.
Well it’s history now. They operated and he came through. Except for the worsening anemia which is probably just from loss of blood and should we transfuse him? We think so? Of course by all means, is it complicated? Not at all. Costly? Mmmmm yes…
But just two weeks ago I heard a re-broadcast of that wonderful program about penises that Ira Glass did on This American Life. OK, OK it was really about testosterone. And don’t we all know what testosterone has done to the world! With my own estrogen levels ebbing daily the see-saw of hormones has caused testosterone to come into new prominence. (Ask my oldest girl who when she sees me nowadays says “Hi Mum you look great! You only have this One Whisker!”)
Thus little grey Abe won’t be fighting anyone, not that he ever did. He was always meek and self-effacing as anyone can see.
He won’t spray anyone, not that he ever did that either, his cruel owners having nipped that urge in the bud when he was a baby. He won’t even get to stand up to go to the bathroom. “He’ll pee like a girl” the vet had said and so he shall I suppose. The important thing is that he’ll be home with us soon.
Soooo initial sleepover bladder emptying and work-up: $1400; added evaluations $2000 more. Transfusion, morphine cocktail, enemas: a grand total of 4500 balloons. But Abe eating and peeing and trotting around with the enjoyment we all know? Priceless! So hang on old friend we’ll be there soon. And they say the drugs are great!
ABE AMONG THE FLOWERS
Is it OK to whine in a blog? I swore off whining in my diaries out of pity for my poor kids who’ll have to go through them all some day and who wants to find out their mother was so petty, writing down how misunderstood she felt all the time or else primly recorded every time her husband looked at her cross-eyed?
No I’ll not burden them. I’ll burden you instead.
On Monday our nice crazy cat Abe disappeared – just vanished into thin air. I noticed it at suppertime when he didn’t come downstairs talking his little black gums off. (He’s one of those really chatty animals.) I asked his sister Charlotte where he was but she wasn’t talkin’. David went out to play tennis and drink Scotch with his pals so I made a fire in living room fireplace thinking “this is the center of the house; if Abe is anywhere in here I will hear him.”
I didn’t though and when David came home and heard he was gone we searched the whole house twice; then he went back outside with a flashlight and looked and listened, even drove around hoping Abe would pop out of the bushes since he loves nothing so much as a ride in your car so long as you’re just going around the block.
No luck though. “He’s in the house,” I told David. “I can feel him; so for the third time that night we searched all three floors and even the cellar. Nada. We slept with our bedroom door open for the first time in 20 years the way we used to do when the kids were babies. “What’s this about?” I asked Dave when he swung it wide. “So he can find us if he comes looking.”
He didn’t though. So the NEXT day I looked for him all over the town and every old newspaper, every piece of tree-limb looked to me like a little grey cat huddled in the gutter, killed by some ruthless fool in a car.
Finally I called my pal Mary, school nurse, veteran of the Oncology Department and the AIDS ward at Mass General Hospital. She’s the one who helped me through my last cat crisis which, when I made it into a column, brought in more letters than any other thing I have written in 27 years. (You can see it – hell you can HEAR me tell it in my own voice but you have to buy my $30 audio-plus-read-it book first ha ha.) Mary said she’d come after supper that night and help me look. She brought her lovely 13-year old Rachel and not eight minutes after they got here we found him – in the skinniest little space behind the door of my son’s third floor bedroom, empty now with Michael off in New York subsisting on a diet of beer and Ramen noodles.
He just stared at us, listless. Mary touched him, studied his face and said “renal failure?” We went right to the all-night animal ER, this gorgeous well-lighted temple of wellness and they operated on him within the hour.
All this was yesterday and I felt OK; I felt as if we were making progress. Because he wasn’t lost anymore, see. I felt as good as you do when you HAVE the baby and then the nurses suggest you let them take it down the hall to the nursery so you can rest and you say yes sure because you’re no fool you know it’s gonna be a LONG 20 years.
So yesterday I was happy. But today when the vet called at 6am she said he was no better really. His bladder didn’t burst and kill him but the catheter in his little neutered pee-pee set up some inflammation and his bloodwork looked iffy and he just couldn’t go home today forget about it and we’re now heading past the $2000 mark billwise but that was OK, right?
So at 6:30am I made my way down to the kitchen and opened up the cabinet with the flower vases, thinking to bring a bouquet to Mary and Rachel and out fell the one thing I have from my mother’s wedding day: a low chunky water glass saved as a souvenir. She used to keep one of the napkins in it from the reception hall. “Longwood Towers” it says in blue embroidery. The napkin was fine but the glass smashed in a million pieces.
Then, not six hours later I was thinking about the 20 Shakespeare enthusiasts who are coming here Tuesday night so we can all read Henry VIII aloud in my living room . I went to the dining room and was vaguely pawing some nice china service pieces when Smash! there went the fine china platter from my mother’s wedding in 1903 and you wouldn’t mind but this poor lady died at age 31 and what kind of a thing was THAT to do to her memory?
So I felt like hell all day and began thinking what were they doing to my baby down the hall in that nursery? I want him back! So I went to visit him. He has his leg in a sort of cast to support his IV tube and he seems to have dandruff or something all of a sudden and at first he tried to say some things about how sore his pee-pee was but in the end settled for purring like mad while I held him.
And now I’m home again and the column is due tomorrow and still has a zillion mistakes in it. But Dave’s got his bridge pals over and they’re drinking MORE Scotch and watching the Celtics so that’s good. That means I can iron and watch my new DVD of Eastern Promises, way too scary a move for David to even see a single scene of. I didn’t eat any dinner so maybe I’ll take that up with me too, then when I’m done put my sorry self to bed, asking forgivingness of my mum and her poor young mum and pulling up the covers to hide my head just like Abe did when we brought him in to the Catheter Cathedral.