Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You'll Be In My Heart

Hi Folks! Thanks for stopping by! I know that I promised to tell you all sorts of interesting critter stories from the adventures I've enjoyed this summer, but a different story has been on my mind lately, and I feel the need to tell it. I hope you'll bear with me.

Have you ever experienced something really profound in your life, and for whatever reason, came to associate a certain song with that experience? And every time you hear that song, no matter how far back in time the experience was, that music brings all the old thoughts and feelings rushing back? Such is the case with me now. Every time I hear Phil Collins "You'll Be In My Heart," my eyes well up and my mind flashes back to my own first, profound experience.

It was eleven years ago this month that Macavity died. The deaf, all-white cat originally belonged to Lee, a man I lived with for several years. Toward the end of our relationship, Macavity became ill, losing weight and enduring horrible diarrhea that went on for months. A decent person would have taken him to the vet, but Lee was a drug addict, you see, and spending money on a veterinarian would cut into the amount of money available to spend on drugs. Eventually, I made the appointment myself, dragged Lee along, and stood there feeling like a total jerk when the doctor looked at us and announced, "It's not good. He'll have to stay." As it turned out, Macavity's liver was failing. He would require daily sub-cutaneous infusions of saline solution to help his poor, beleaguered liver flush out the toxic cooties.

I broke up with Lee shortly after Macavity's diagnosis. He took his cat and moved back in with his mother. He started stalking me, then, turning up drunk and angry, pounding on my apartment door and demanding to be let in. It was terrifying. I called the police so many times that the prosecutor finally took the case seriously. Together, we pushed the case through the courts, and Lee was sentenced to seven months in jail. Immediately after the sentencing, I drove to his mother's house and asked whether she wanted to do the sub-cu treatments herself while Lee was locked up. When she said no, I casually offered to do them myself, scooped up the cat and was gone. Macavity and I moved across town and left no forwarding address.

Come stop your crying,
it will be all right.
Just take my hand,
hold it tight.
I will protect you
from all around you.
I will be here
don't you cry.

He had lost all the weight he could possibly lose and then some. He was skin and bones. He slept most of the time. Sometimes, he wobbled and lost his balance as he walked. I had no experience with sick cats, and had a needle phobia to boot. It took a certain fortitude for me to stick him with those huge needles once, twice, sometimes three times a day. The wonderful techs at the vet's office gave me all kinds of suggestions on how to care for him. Cook some rice in tuna water, they said, the rice might help with the diarrhea. Warm the bag of saline solution before you inject it, they said, it will be more comfortable for him. Knowing that money was tight, they often gave me supplies for free. They never told me just how sick Macavity was, they merely encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing.

You'd think that all those needles and all those bags of saline solution under his skin would have made Macavity unhappy with me, but that was never the case. He seemed to understand when I explained, "It's Go Juice, it helps you go!" He never fought me, never clawed, never bit. He tolerated those treatments as though he trusted that I was doing my best to help him.

For one so small,
you seem so strong.
My arms will hold you,
keep you safe and warm.
This bond between us
can't be broken,
I will be here
don't you cry.

In retrospect, I know now that the attention I gave Macavity was more than he ever got from Lee. Even when Lee was physically present, his mind was elsewhere. I've no doubt that he loved Macavity, but he was numb and detached, and probably thought that the attention he gave his cat was enough. It's a testament to Macavity's own sense of isolation that he responded to those unpleasant saline treatments not with hissing and hiding, but with purrs and snuggles. During his last months, we grew closer than I ever knew was possible.

Cause you'll be in my heart,
yes, you'll be in my heart.
From this day on,
now and forever more.
You'll be in my heart,
no matter what they say.
You'll be here in my heart, always.

Dr. Green and his staff never told me that Macavity was dying, even though they knew. There was simply no way he could survive when he was pooping blood all the time. It's physically impossible. But Macavity didn't know he was supposed to be dying, and so he held on. Day after week after month, he held on. There was no medical explanation for the fact that he continued to wake up each morning, he just did.

Why can't they understand
the way we feel?
They just don't trust
what they can't explain.
I know we're different, but,
deep inside us,
we're not that different at all.

Because he was born deaf, Macavity had always been skittish. When Lee and I moved in together, it had taken the cat a couple of years to get used to my everyday presence. In that last year of his life, though, Macavity not only tolerated his daily treatments, but he initiated a ritual that told me just how important our relationship had become to him. Every night, as I lay on the couch (the bedroom was too far away from where he slept in the living room), he would join me for a snuggle. He would jump up and settle, half on my chest, half on my pillow, his cold wet nose touching my cheek, his small cat breath on my face. He had never once done such a thing when Lee and I were together. It was an extraordinary gesture, one I treasured every single night. And all the while, he continued to outlive the veterinary staff's predictions.

Don't listen to them,
cause what do they know?
We need each other
to have, to hold.
They'll see in time,
I know.

We spent whole days together. I wasn't working then; I was fortunate to be living with a man who was willing to pay the vet bills for a cat he didn't own. While he was at work, I would read, or work on pottery projects, always in the apartment, always in the living room where Macavity was. Sometimes, on sunny days, we'd sit on the balcony and bird-watch. When he wanted my attention, he would trill at me. You could hear the question in his voice, a sort of, "Would you notice me now, please?" I would go over him with a flea comb then. Macavity didn't have fleas, but he'd neglected his coat for so long that it needed daily care from me. While he napped, I'd consult with the vet's staff on matters of diet, on his never-ending diarrhea, asking question after question, and concentrating carefully on every answer. And all the while, he continued to outlive the staff's predictions.

When destiny calls you,
you must be strong.
I may not be with you,
but you've got to hold on.
They'll see in time,
I know.
We'll show them together.

I learned later that Macavity had been expected to live no longer than three months from the time I kidnapped him from Lee's mother. In fact, he lived for thirteen. No one could offer an explanation. No cat whose liver is failing to that degree lives thirteen months. And yet, he did. Repeatedly, I had asked the staff, "How will I know when he's ready to go?" They would always say the same thing, "You'll know." But I didn't. There were two times when I thought maybe he'd had enough. Both times, I had called the office, and arranged for Dr. Jill to come to the apartment to euthanize him, only to call back within hours and change my mind. I don't know who wasn't ready then - him or me. The day did come, of course. And on that day, if I wasn't entirely certain, I was certain enough. It had been a long haul. He'd lived fifteen years. He was tired. There was nothing else to do, no other treatments to try. We euthanized him on the balcony.

You'll be in my heart,
believe me, you'll be in my heart.
I'll be there from this day on,
now and forever more.

It was vet tech Terry Ann - a Christian woman with a rock-solid faith in the Almighty - who may have supplied the answer to the mystery that was Macavity's longevity. Discussing the matter over enchiladas at our favorite Mexican restaurant not long after Macavity died, she told me that she believed Macavity had lived so long because I loved him so much. In her view, there was no other explanation. And, you know? I choose to believe her.

For reasons I won't get into here, I ultimately scattered Macavity's ashes at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens outside London, England. It was the closure I needed. I've since returned there, to that spot by the lake, to linger for a time and enjoy the view, knowing that if there is, indeed, an afterlife, I've chosen his eternity well: I scattered those ashes where he can enjoy the ducks on the lake, and the birds in the meadow nearby. I look forward to joining him there when my time here is done.

You'll be in my heart,
no matter what they say.
You'll be here in my heart, always.
Just look over your shoulder.
I'll be there always.

That song still makes me cry.

lyrics by Phil Collins
(c) Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
and Walt Disney Music Company

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