The morning of Saturday, October the 6th I was walking to work when over by the supermarket I heard a cat crying. I looked around to see if the cat was stuck in or under something, but couldn’t actually see the cat at all. I was about to go on my way, but then decided to check again, and this time found a frightened little kitten stuck at the top of a tree, I tried to coax her down, but she seemed stuck in a pattern: she’d climb down one branch, then climb back up another one. I was especially worried, since there was a power line next to the tree. And even if she did manage to get safely down, the street 25 feet away was as dangerous as a super-highway.
The tree was growing in the backyard of an interior decorating firm’s office. I knocked on the door, but nobody answered. I considered calling the Fire Department, but I was afraid they’d take too long and probably charge me for the service.
So I just stood there, gesturing and coaxing, whistling, smacking my lips, until the kitten came down to a limb that I could reach and pull down.
I set her on the ground and she began twisting around my legs. I figured the best place for her for now was my apartment, so I headed back there, with the kitty wrapped around my neck like a python. Inside I gave her water and tuna—she lapped both up in a manner that indicated she’d not had food or water in awhile.
Nevertheless, she looked very good: no apparent fleas, clean eyes, nose, ears, fur. She’s white with black and grey tabby spots, a grey tabby tail, and ears and the top of her head also grey tabby. She’s very tiny, with a small mouth and nose.
Very quickly she took up the trick of reaching out with her paw and delicately knocking my glasses off my nose.
I spread newspapers on the bathroom floor, left the food and water dishes in there, and left the light on, and shut the door—almost. (I have so many books piled the outer door jamb that the door won’t fully close.)
I called work and said I was running late and would be in as soon as possible. I was an hour late and nobody said anything. And the way I figure it, a cat’s life is worth more than a shitty $7.66 an hour.
As a result of this new development I was in a fairly good mood all day. And then two bonuses: 1) I was assigned to finish processing the shipment back in the comfort of the office, far from the noise and bustle up front; and 2) the manager went home early.
After work I ran into Mike A___, whom I’d not seen in a few years, and he gave me a ride. He asked what I’d been up to and I told him about the Bi-Polar Level II diagnosis. He joked,
–That’s just like you, B___—having to be one step over everyone else!
–Well, it’s not like it’s a better version of Bi-Polar, like “Bi-Polar, Version 2.0.”
A few hours later I went to the supermarket and got some canned and dry cat food, some jingly cat toys, and a disposable cat box (Just in case someone puts up a flier announcing a lost cat). Still, turning into the pet aisle after all this time made me tear up.
I had some poorly-cooked Chinese food, then headed home, feeling a bit excited about seeing the kitten again. Then I saw the vet place where Fred had died, and I started crying. I realized I didn’t really want this kitten—I still wanted another Basset, and even then, none of them would ever replace Fred.
I got home and found the kitty had broken out of the bathroom. I sat down to check my e-mail. The kitty climbed up my leg, then knocked one-third of the stuff off my desk, before becoming fascinating by the computer, stepping all over the keyboard, and batting at the icons, the cursor, and so forth.
I learned via e-mail that a Basset, whose health everyone on the Basset newsletter board had been following closely as he alternated between somewhat decent and seriously bad health, had passed away today, so I began sobbing. I called my mom to tell her about the cat, and began crying over Fred some more. Then I cried after the phone call. And in the shower. And while typing….
Sunday I slept late, and spent most of my waking hours getting the cat out from underfoot and picking up stuff she’d knocked over. She has a bad habit of standing between my legs while I’ll trying to piss—I’m afraid she might get hit with a stray stream. She’s also started jumping up on top of my boxes of books and files, which is a good way for her to get hurt.
Every time she does something cute or affectionate, I begin sobbing, thinking about Fred.
She filled up the disposable litter box in one night, so I went to Petsmart and got her a new one and scanned the lost and found board there and on Craigslist to see if anyone was missing a kitten. James initially suggested I just take care of the cat until I find someone else who wants her….
Sunday night the cat kept me awake by “making biscuits” by my face, on my chest, and elsewhere, then doing a Nureyevskian Grande Jeté over my face and onto the rug.
Monday I felt dull and depressed, with a nasty cough developing in my chest.
Monday was the day the government insists on celebrating Columbus Day (I hate the “Monday Holiday Bill” almost as much as Daylight Savings Time) holiday, so we had no mail delivery. Therefore we had no visit from the guy we call “The Sweaty Mailman,” who manages to get every piece of mail that comes into the store sopping wet with his excessive and nasty perspiration.
I was looking forward to seeing the cat when I got home, but wound up spending my first few hours home crying.
Tuesday the 9th I had an appointment with a nurse, who took me off that fucking Ativan (twice daily) and put me on Vistaril (three times daily) for my anxiety, yet doubled my dosage of the useless mood stabilizer Lamictal from 100 mg to 200 mg. I explained to the nurse and my case worker that my condition hasn’t improved at all in two months, although I’ve stopped thinking about suicide all the time. Now I just feel hopeless and utterly devoid of a future.
I wonder why it is my care-givers seem so much more optimistic about my chances of fixing my life and tangled brain than I am.
In the waiting room I cried a bit in front of my Case Worker when talking about Fred.
After the exam my case worker took me downtown so I could get my free bus pass, declaring to all the world that I am officially “disabled.” And when I got home I learned of the passing of another friend’s Basset Hound and began crying all over again, while the kitty kept trying to jump onto my lap or perch on my shoulder.
I did take the kitty out to see the balcony today, but she wasn’t as interested as I thought she’d be. She only wants to be where I am—at all times.
James asked me if I’d taken her to the vet yet for her shots or dropped her off with a shelter or agency.
–And what am I supposed to pay for all these shots with? My charm and good looks?
And as for taking her somewhere I was too busy running around town attending to my official business as a crazy person to do that.
I think I’m coming down with something—maybe a flu or bronchial infection. I greatly look forward to it. It would be a vast improvement over the horror of my job.
Tuesday night I was sitting in bed, getting ready to put things away and go to sleep, when I heard a clatter in the living room, followed by the sound of something falling over. I sternly called out, “FRED!!!,” in order to get him out of whatever mischief he was into and to come join me in the bedroom. The word had scarcely left my mouth when I realized what I had said, remembered that Fred was in fact dead, and that it was the cat that was knocking around in the living room. And then I fell into yet another fit of crying and sobbing.
Before I retired on Tuesday night I took a capsule of Vistaril—my new anxiety med—and it knocked me on my ass, to the extent I was too groggy, doped-up, and out of it to even stand up straight Wednesday morning, much less go to work. I called in sick; I barely remember the message I left, other than that I said my reason for not coming in had nothing to do with my now-raspy, rumbling voice.
The pill bottle had said to take a capsule “three times daily as needed.” So I figured I would take one before bed, one upon waking, and another at noon, since noon’s about the time things start getting crazy at work. So like an idiot right after calling in sick I took another Vistaril capsule (25 mg), as well as my new morning dose of Lamictal (200 mg). I was knocked out until 12:30pm, when I was awakened by the computer automatically rebooting. (It had gotten a new update or something.) I got up to see what the problem was and to see if the power was still on, then went back to bed, sweating profusely, and slept until 5:30. Upon waking I noted my cough had gotten worse. Then I left a message for my case worker to find me a new prescription that would actually allow me to function….
Anyway, despite being loaded with purported anti-anxiety meds, as soon as I woke up Wednesday, I went into anxiety and annoyance overdrive as the cat started jumping around, getting underfoot, and knocking things over. As much as she clearly loves me, and despite the fact she stayed curled up by my side all during my drug-induced sleep, she is also a tremendous nuisance. I am tired of being clawed. I am tired of having to repeatedly move her out of my way. She’s also going through kitty litter and litter liners almost daily, and I can’t afford to pay for them.
James’s wimpy whining and presumptive attempt at ordering me around notwithstanding, I decided I needed to find a new home for this kitten, and called my vet’s office to see if anyone had reported her missing. The office was closed and the phone wasn’t set up to take messages. I then checked on-line for the various local agencies that take in cats, but most seem to be booked-up right now. I wanted to paraphrase Henry II:
–Who will rid me of this troublesome pussy?
A blog posted on October 14th, 2007.
Well, I’ve written at length about my state of mental health, but my physical health isn’t much better. I’ve had chest congestion and a racking cough for the better part of a week. An allergic reaction to cat dander? Perhaps.
Thursday night I had to prop my head and torso up in bed so the crap could slide back down my throat and I could stop coughing long enough to get to sleep. I went to work Friday even though I felt terrible, took some Musinex (which I keep calling “Mucasil” for some reason, and still hacked all day. Friday night/Saturday morning I was coughing until 3:30am, when I got up, left a message on my shop’s answering machine that I would not be in, took some more Musinex, as well as one a Vistaril, and slept like a bastard. (Vistaril is the latest anxiety med they put me on at the “nervish clinic;” I took some Tuesday night and it knocked me to the extent I called in sick Wednesday as well, and was out cold until 5:30pm. I’m supposed to get a new anxiety med this next week.)
Anyway, today, Saturday, I was up until about 5:30am, when the meds finally kicked in, and I slept off and on until about 7:30pm. I got up occasionally to piss and let the cat out of the bathroom so she could run around and stretch her legs.
I’m still coughing, especially if I have to bend over for anything. (Of course, in the world of work, you’re being bent over all day, symbolically at least, so it’s good I didn’t go in.)…
When you sleep under the influence of as many meds as I’ve been taking lately you get some amazing dreams. Today I had quite a few. In one I had finally concluded that my step-brother had indeed tossed all the belongings I had stored on the property where he lives now and where I spent my wretched adolescence and I was about to take my revenge, legal or otherwise.
In another I had finally taken the plunge and committed myself to the State Hospital for a time. They had assigned me a bed, but not a room. I had a bed on a staircase landing in the creepy old Main Administration Building.
I was in bed, covers pulled up, eyes half-shut, pretending to be asleep so no one would come bother me. Fred was with me, naturally, and I had my arm around him. Doctors, nurses, and attendants were coming and going, stopping to talk, and then shift-change came, and there were people everywhere, going up and downstairs, and then an attendant came over and asked me how I was.
Maybe that’s what the afterlife is like—reunited with my beloved, but stuck in a noisy madhouse. And doesn’t a staircase landing, a place that is neither here nor there, somewhat suggest an image of Purgatory?
After that I dreamt I was watching an episode of the “Andy Griffith Show” and Andy was having psychological problems and wanted to check himself into a mental hospital for a time, but since this was the early Sixties he realized that if he went into a mental hospital and the public found out his career would be effectively over and there would be no one to support Opie and Aunt Bee, so he was secretly consulting with advisers as to what to do….
A blog posted on October 30th, 2007.
Fred B___, One Year Later
Today marks one year since my beloved Fred passed on.
It’s been a rough year. In fact—and I’m not wallowing in self-pity when I say this—I can’t think of a single good thing that’s happened since Fred died. For the first six months after he died I had violent crying jags every day, up to four times a day. These stopped being a daily occurrence almost exactly at the six month point, but they still occur with great regularity.
People tell me the pain will lessen, will cease to be so sharp and raw, and that all that will remain will be happy memories, but I’ve not yet found that to be true. Some days it feels like Fred only died a couple months ago; other times he seems like a part of the distant past, so that I have trouble remembering what it was like when he graced my life with his silly ways, beaming smile, and steadfast, loving heart.
Any of you who have experienced grief and loss know how uncomfortable others are made by your grief. Their tolerance and supposed sympathy for you has a very brief shelf-life. Your grief reminds them of things they’d rather not think about, of questions they’d rather not address. So it should not be surprising when I say that my family and friends have largely failed me in my grief. My tears make them uncomfortable, or in some cases, they find my tears tiresome. (“Oh, great, here he goes with that again!”)
A college friend, whom I’ve not seen in eighteen years, was horrified to learn I keep Fred’s ashes in a box beside my bed, and that I kiss a photo of Fred atop that box the first thing when I wake in the morning and the last thing when I go to bed at night. This guy suggested I dump Fred’s ashes in a lake and “get on with [my] life,” that continuing to mourn Fred is unhealthy.
And here we get to the crux of the problem: Fred was really the only thing I had going in my life, the only thing I had to live for. Without him, all I have is my grief. I don’t feel like I want to give up my grief, because without that there’s nothing.
I’m sure that some of you, reading my posts over the last year, have read between the lines and figured out that there was more going on with me than I was saying. Indeed, for the last year I’ve had a long, drawn-out nervous breakdown. I know doctors don’t like to use that term now, but to the extent that a person can have a nervous breakdown, I had one.
I’ve wallowed in guilt that I didn’t do enough for Fred during his lifetime, that I left him alone too many times, that I allowed him to be put on Rimadyl when I had grave misgivings about its safety, that I frivolously spent money in 2005 that could’ve gone towards top-flight treatment for him in 2006, that I didn’t sell my belongings to pay for his care, that I didn’t exhaust every possibility for him when he was sick, that I waited too long to put him to sleep.
Around March or April I quit that graveyard shift job I’d started two weeks before Fred died, the job I’d had to go to when I should have been at home tending to Fred, keeping him company, the job I was working when I came home one morning and found Fred stuck on his side in his own urine, unable to right himself, barking himself hoarse for God knows how long. I blamed the job for Fred’s suffering, I blamed myself, I blamed the forces that made me get that job when I should have been with Fred around the clock.
That job never stopped reminding me of Fred’s death. I used to go to the bus stop in the morning after my shift and cry for the better part of my half-hour wait; today I can’t pass that bus stop without turning my head away.
So I quit that job, did some lucrative contract work for a couple months, then got stuck in another low-paying job that I hate, that I am now trying to squeeze out of. I have all but begged my manager to fire me.
In August I was diagnosed as having Bi-Polar Disorder Level II (having been diagnosed—and treated with no success–with Depression in 2003 and Bi-Polar I—or Manic-Depression—in 2004). As I have no insurance and very little income I had to seek help with the county mental health system, which means I get to go to scary parts of town and hang out in clinics with ex-cons and junkies. I go to group therapy sessions which haven’t helped. I take medications which haven’t helped. And I go to a therapist once a week; I enjoy that, but I wish the sessions were more frequent. I have practically no hope that I’m going to get any better, that I’ll get my mind right or my career back on track.
At the beginning of October I saved a kitten that was stuck up a tree and took her home. While she was affectionate, she was also rambunctious, mischievous, and destructive. She tore my house apart and bit and scratched me several times a day as part of her idea of fun. The first few days I had the cat, every time she’d do something cute I’d burst into tears because it would remind me just how much she wasn’t Fred, of what a poor substitute for Fred she was, and of the fact I’ll never see Fred again in this life.
To make a very long story short, I was having a lot of trouble finding a home for this kitty. She was stressing me out exceedingly and even making me angry with her behavior, which put me, her, and my home in danger. The idea that I could be angry towards an animal—and certainly that I was capable of swatting one, which, yes, I confess I did a few times—made me feel like a monster. I felt as if I’d let down the high standards I’d maintained with Fred, that I’d failed Fred and all the animal kingdom somehow. And on top of all this for much of October I’ve had a racking cough which was diagnosed last week as being bronchitis.
Fortunately, on Monday the 29th, a vet assistant friend found a home for the kitty, though she’s so enchanted by the cat she’s considering keeping her herself. Either way, I was told she’d give me progress reports. And wouldn’t you know it, after the house became empty and silent once again, I somewhat regretted giving her away, even though I knew it was for the best.
[The kitty lived with my friend for one month, but eventually bit through a wire and was electrocuted to death. I was devastated.]
The same day I had a talk with my Case Worker. She asked what was it about Fred’s death that hurt me the most, that was prolonging my grief. She told me to answer without thinking or analyzing first. I blurted,
–The loss of unconditional love given and received, and the fact I’ll never get to see him again.
Even a year later, I can’t believe that’s he’s really gone.
On October 31st, one day after the first anniversary of Fred’s death and two day’s before my forty-fourth birthday, I returned to work, more or less over my bronchitis.
At the end of an unremarkable day I went back to the office to clock out. My little sawed-off runt of a manager furrowed his brow and assumed that look shallow people get when they know they’re supposed to look serious. He cleared his throat and addressed me in a voice an octave lower that the one he normally used:
–J___, I hate to have to tell you this, but I’m afraid I’m gonna have to let you go. The Christmas season’s coming soon, and that’s our busiest time of the year, and it stays that way through the end of Easter. And I can’t have someone who can’t handle working the register, who freezes up when he can’t figure out the software, or has a meltdown when things get busy or hectic or noisy. Now you are a hard worker and you have done some excellent work and made some great changes that have really helped, but I hired you because I need someone to work the register. I hope you understand, and I wish you success in whatever it is you want to do.
I turned to him, and with eyes like cold poached eggs gave him a look that showed I was truly unfazed, then extended my hand, and in a tone of voice that probably to him sounded a bit too happy, said,
I shook hands with Elaine and shook hands with and embraced Fay. They told me to take care. I had some books and holy cards on hold, but I didn’t have the money to buy them, so I left them behind.
Like most of the jobs I’d had the previous few years, this one had lasted only five months. I’d had a strange and hopeful feeling it would end in October.
I went home excited, my head in a cloud. Sure, I was worried what I’d do for an income now, but I couldn’t get over my dumb luck in finally breaking out of yet another jail. I posted my news in a mass e-mail as soon as I got home.
I called my Case Worker, Maggie, and left her my good news on her voice mail. I think she was concerned that this dramatic change would trigger some dramatic psychological reaction….