Sunday, December 16, 2007


My Third Soul

My Second Soul, Horace, December 2002.



Almost thirty years ago, my then husband and I did two things. One, we moved into our first apartment. And, two, we began to have cats. This may not seem that unusual to most people, but we’d both grown up scared of cats.

We developed a fondness for Siamese, so we obtained our first one. A lilac point, we named her, Purpurea Tullia, or, The Purple Tullia. When she began to have her heats, we decided to breed her. I’ll never forget what the breeder said to us over the phone after a successful mating session: Tullia had been burned. The person meant, bred. I must have been hard of hearing, even then.

One cold winter day, Tullia went into labor. We waited, and waited, by the cardboard birthing box we had so carefully prepared for her. Out came kitten number one, then number two, then, finally, number three. A smallish litter: we were somewhat disappointed.

My husband quickly noticed that kitten number three did not appear to be breathing. Not hesitating for a second, he shook the kitten gently in order to clear its nasal passages. The runt of the litter, this little fellow quickly became our favorite (and of course we kept him). We gave him the grand name of Graf von Mittendorf.

The Mitten, as we called him, was the grandson of a Grand Champion. Of a Grand Champion bellower, that is: he inherited his grandfather’s lungs. He was also an attention-grabbing hog. In the middle of the one and only Tupperware party I ever gave, The Mitten came into the middle of the room, jumped on top of the fireplace, and scampered away with a peacock feather we’d placed there for special play occasions.

Sadly, FIP claimed Tullia. Healthy one day, sick the next, and… well, within a week, we had to have her put down. I remember seeing her with the IV thrust into her little paw. Tears were streaming down my face. We still had the now grown-up Mitten with us, until we became dorm tutors and had to pass him along to a worthy home. Fortunately, we found one with a Siamese with whom The Mitten became fast friends.

When we were on our own again, the first thing we did was to get new cats. Colleagues of ours lived on a farm nearby, inhabited by the usual assortment of barn animals. So a little multi-toed white ball of fluff came home with us. We named him, Tweed (after Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall fame).

A wonderful little soul, Tweed loved all animals, and everybody. However, we still wanted a Siamese. Was there one to be had in our Upstate town? Yes: in an old lady’s basement. So, one evening, my husband descended into that basement and managed to corner a little spitfire whom we aptly named, Iskra. Iskra means “spark” in Russian.

A seal point, Iskra quickly developed into a little love. When my mother came to visit, Iskra spent a great deal of time on her lap. Right after Christmas, we had to go to a conference. Leaving Tweed and Iskra alone, we returned to find Tweed running around and meowing piteously. Where was Iskra, we wondered.

We lived in an 1830’s farmhouse at the time. Charming, all the way down to its uneven floors. The cats had gotten in the habit of cozying up on top of our waterbed. And that’s what Iskra had tried to do: get into our bedroom. We found her lodged under the door.

This was the first real death in my life.

Screaming, I called my parents. My mother was so moved she even wrote a poem about Iskra. My husband gently lifted her and placed her in a garbage bag. It was very cold out. We didn’t know what else to do.

Except that, several days later, we managed to find two new Siamese kittens. One, a blue point, my husband named, Zunz. This was the name of a well-known expert in my husband’s academic field who, as the story went, had sauntered into his university’s bookstore and haughtily proclaimed, “I am Zunz.” The name fit the cat (although he actually had a rather sweet temperament).

The other kitty was a tortie point Siamese. He had huge saucer-like eyes, so I named him, Patella – “kneecap” in Latin – or Patty for short. He turned out to be the proverbial scaredy-cat, gracing us with his presence for only brief slivers of time.

In Iskra’s memory – and to protect ourselves – we now had three babies. Tweed, ever the lover of all animals and everybody, patiently waited for the little upstarts to accept him. They did.

And so we moved across the country. We drove: the cats flew. Life continued as usual in our new home. We barely saw Patty. We experienced such a huge infestation of fleas in our basement that, when we went to do our laundry, we invariably returned with our legs full of bites. But we loved our boys, and that was that.

It was time to move again. Major strategy planning went into our cat move preparations. The plan this time was to move first, and then have the cats shipped to us. Out of the blue, our vet called us: Patty had FIP. Poor little thing whom we knew primarily by her shadow – or, as my husband liked to say, “Patty’s making his debut.”

Zunz and Tweed made it to our new home. Multi-toed Tweed was not only almost deaf in one ear, due to constant problems with ear mites, but he also suffered from chronic respiratory infections. We were constantly treating him with some antibiotic or the other. He began to lose weight, and was soon a mere shadow of his former fluffy self. It was time, the vet said. We sadly put our little caretaker to sleep.

So what was to become of Zunz, all by his lonesome? George soon came to live with us. With the exception of Tullia and The Mitten, our other Siamese had probably not been purebreds, but George was. A perfect seal point specimen, with sapphire blue eyes, pointy ears, and a long snout. My husband renamed him, The Bat.

Zunz and The Bat followed us back East. Three years later, I departed. My husband kept the boys.

But I couldn’t be without a cat of my own for too long. Three weeks to the day after our divorce, I came home with my own little ball of white fluff. I named him, Horace. He was seven weeks old.

Siamese were in my blood by then. When I first showed up at the Animal Shelter the day before, I had my eye on a little female tabby. The next day, she didn’t appear to be as friendly, so I stepped into a room that held a “kitten tree.” And there he was: on one of the branches, I spotted a little Siamese in the making.

Not hesitating, I picked him up, placed him on my shoulder, and, before I’d even left the room, proclaimed: “You’re Horace.” And that was that.

This little seal point mix and I bonded from so early on, in so many special ways, that if I let myself, I could write a book. Let it suffice to say that I caught his anaphylactic shock reaction after his first series of shots fast enough that I turned the car right around and went back to the vet. I was always careful about his shots from then on.

On the other hand, Horace knew something was up the afternoon my dear friend committed suicide so he and his partner wouldn’t have to endure the agony of his illness any longer. When he shot himself, my little cat jumped up onto my rosewood breakfront, knocking down a Chinese tea set. Four teacups broke. I am convinced beyond intuition that he did so at the precise moment.

A highly intelligent, perceptive, playful, sometimes cooperative, and sometimes deliberately mischievous, kitten, Horace got in the habit of jumping way up high, on top of the kitchen cabinets, especially when we moved to our first townhouse. He periodically ran out the front door, only to return after I frantically searched for him under all the cars in the parking lot, plaintively calling out, “Horace, Horace,” and sobbing all the while. And then, of course, he showed up at the front door – after I’d exhausted myself – all on his good time. I’m sure we were a spectacle to behold.

As he was a handful, I sadly decided to have him declawed in front, which is something I had never done with any other cat. The vet declawed and neutered him simultaneously, when he was about six months old. I’ll never forget that, when we got home, his little paws were bleeding a tiny bit, and he made sure I saw it. I cried. I was always convinced that he didn’t let me forget it.

Horace had another interesting habit, a presage of things to come. He loved to leave little deposits everywhere. When I was gone for several days, I came home to find the apartment covered. What could I do? Even then, I provided him with more than one box. But he’d earned a new nickname: The Poopy.

The Poopy eventually became, The Pootie. This was the nickname a neighbor gave to her equally rambunctious son. Continuing to jump on cabinets, let alone all his other antics, I decided the best solution would be to get him a companion.

When I’d had Horace about a year, I paid another visit to the Animal Shelter. Looking around, I was at a loss, until one of the staff members suggested I bring Horace and let him pick out his own companion. So that’s what I did.

And whom did Horace pick out? A snowshoe point Siamese male whom I named, Lucretius. How did I know he was the one? Horace both wagged his tail and hissed at him. An excellent sign, under the circumstances.

Lovers? Of course not. Friends? From time to time. Let’s just say these two had an uneasy truce. Although Horace was the alpha cat, Lucretius tried to bully him. But Horace ultimately always fought back. Fortunately, two babies declawed in front – in all fairness, had to repeat the process with Lucretius – couldn’t do each other much harm.

Upon Lucretius’ arrival, Horace had been bountiful. Once, out of sheer desperation, I used a room spray to try to eliminate some of the odors. Alas, now it was Lucretius’ turn to have an allergic reaction. The following morning, I discovered he was barely breathing. Rushing him to the vet, he spent the day in ICU. His lungs were full of water. Needless to say, I never sprayed anything again.

We moved South. This time, I flew on the plane, and the boys were in the cargo hold. I remember picking them up, spending a night at my mother’s (and keeping them away from my mother’s equivalent of Methuselah, Boqui the tuxedo cat, who ultimately lived to be twenty years old), and then settling into our new life.

I traveled quite a bit for several years. A lovely couple across the hall took care of my boys – their payment was special presents from wherever my meanderings took me. But several very special events served to remind me of my special connection with my Second Soul.

Number one: Horace chipped a tooth. I lost a crown. Same location in our mouths: believe it, or not. Number two: when I was in an accident, he hugged me when I came home. Outright put his paws around me when I held him. Number three: he hugged me again upon my return from my first solo trip to Bali. However, after my third trip – a month long – he exhibited a totally different response. Horace proceeded to hiss and snarl at both Lucretius and me for thirty hours, one hour for each day I’d been gone!

We then moved Upstate. No 1830’s farmhouse this time, but, rather, sardine-like townhouses with paper-thin walls. I took the boys out to experience snow. No surprise, Horace turned out to be the more intrepid of the two.

My neighbors informed me Lucretius used to jump to the high window facing the street, awaiting my arrival. He was sleek and slender. Unfortunately, Horace was becoming pudgier and pudgier. That’s when I switched to Feline Maintenance Light. However, as I continued to lazily use a self-waterer and feeder, he kept eating. Genetics, let’s call it.

But it was he who used to accompany me in the bathroom, jumping up and sitting on top of the toilet seat, next to the sink, or even in it, sometimes. He loved his tiny trickle of cold tap water. And he loved to lay, paws out, on his namesake rug.

Paws out always meant he liked someone. I had a special friend while I lived Upstate. Once, when he became sick, Horace waited for him outside the bathroom. Paws out. I paid attention to his body language from then on.

Paws out. I’d taken a picture of him while we were down South. In it, he’s under my coffee table, facing my mother. Paws out.

Washington, D.C. came next. Once more, me in plane, cats in cargo hold. I still remember when the airline cargo staff brought my babies out to me and we took a cab to our new home: an old grande dame of an apartment building named The Greenbriar. With a flourish, the doorman brought the cat carriers into the building on a luggage carrier. Everyone oohed and aahed. I was so proud.

It was 1997. In between sixes and sevens, I was restless. I couldn’t accommodate myself to doorman living. So, three months later, I moved to our third – and, as it turned out, last – townhouse together.

August 30. Still in boxes, I wandered out that evening. Going up to Bethesda, where I couldn’t find a parking spot in the trendy restaurant district, I was then heading down Wisconsin Avenue when I heard the news over the radio: Diana, The Princess of Wales, had been in a car accident.

Finding myself in Georgetown, parking on P Street, I was on my way to Clyde’s on M Street when I felt it. A chill. It was after ten p.m.

The story was everywhere. Finding a seat at the bar, I discussed it with the bartender, a very sensitive fellow who was a student of Latin American affairs. Getting home as quickly as I could, I turned on CNN, and called my mother.

It was while I was on the phone that CNN announced Diana had died.

A Diana follower since 1980, I was thunderstruck. As millions, I genuinely grieved. I couldn’t sleep. The cats picked up on all of this, of course. Lucretius, with his limber limbs, began to jump to and fro on the boxes. And then it happened: he jumped on Horace, who, in turn, jumped on me as I lay in bed, and drew blood.

He hadn’t meant to, of course. Something came over me. Perhaps it was my nerves, the cramped quarters, or whatever, but I decided to call an old friend who loved the boys. I asked her if she wanted Lucretius. She said, yes. Several days later, I placed him in his carrier, put him on an airplane, and shipped him to New York.

One soul had just helped another soul achieve his mission: to be alone with me. Of course, Horace reacted in his own special way. The opposite of his usual, that is. He couldn’t go. The vet prescribed Propulsid. We both returned to normal – to our “new” normal.

The Pootie continued to tell me who was good, bad, or indifferent toward me. We survived my Smithsonian research project, my Capitol Hill forays, Monica. He didn’t like it when I was glued to the “black box” – a.k.a., my Mac laptop. At least he didn’t run out the door as much. I always used to find him, sitting or hunching pretty, on the bed, on a chair (his special armchair from which I was always vainly trying to remove his cat hair), on the floor, when I returned home. We had become conjoined, intermingling souls.

On the night of November 6, 1999, Horace acted very strangely. He kept pacing around and around the upstairs as I vainly tried to fall asleep. “What’s wrong?” I asked him. We both finally knocked off, exhausted.

The next day, November 7, was even more life changing than when Diana had passed away. That night was when I realized something had happened to my mother. Had Horace inadvertently perceived something through me?

Boarding The Pootie at my vet, as I had on numerous occasions, I returned South to my parents’ house. A friend of mine sent him down to me about ten days later. Rocking back and forth in his carrier, he let her know he didn’t like her tape selections. She told me she found it highly amusing.

The latter part of that month was extremely difficult, but my cat rode its down spiraling low with me. And, on the night of November 28, he slept right next to my head, on the side of my pillow. My mother had passed away that afternoon.

Once again settling into new patterns, the kitten came out again, albeit at a slower and gentler pace. He ran out the door whenever he could. He spent time out on the patio, eyeing – but never hurting – the lizards. And one day he did the extraordinary.

I don’t know what possessed him one sunny morning. Eyeing a bird above the cathedral ceiling patio roof, he decided to go after it. Jumping in the air, he landed… in the pool! Horrified, I was ready to go in to rescue him, when he surprised me (and, I daresay, himself) by swimming across the breadth of the pool. After two attempts, he finally scrambled out and ran into the house, looking for all the world like a wet rat.

Poor little thing. Running in, myself, I fetched some towels and tried to dry him off. I only partially succeeded. He spent the rest of the day shaking his little paws dry. And he didn’t go back out on the patio for a very long time.

He continued to be my extra sensory antennae: when an old family friend tried to make nice with him, he did something I’d never seen him do before. He turned around, showing her his little behind, and walked away from her. I’d known she didn’t like me for thirty years: did it really take a little cat to confirm this for me?

We moved several times. The first place – townhouse number four, now that I think of it – he tried to make the best of it. I couldn’t, didn’t: I should have paid more attention to his body language. The second place, a first floor apartment, we both loved.

I’d bought some leather furniture. He eventually made the chair his own. Yes, he scratched it, clambering on top. But he loved it – it was Horace’s chair. He also loved the very private patio, where we spent many an afternoon just lolling about, with me reading while he peered upward every time planes zoomed overhead on their way to the nearby airport.

It was in that apartment that we experienced 9/11. The day before, he’d been running up and down the hallway. Was it because I was excited about my upcoming trip to Paris, or because he sensed something?

Christmas of 2001 I sent out my first ever holiday greeting card with Horace’s picture on it. A picture of him sitting like a pasha, as I like to say, on his chair. Everyone adored it.

We were getting ready to move again, however… to a dee-luxe apartment in the sky. This time, I didn’t mind the doorman (at least for a while). And everyone loved The Pootie. He was a Grand Old Man of ten plus years by now, over seventy in human terms.

A cold here and there, with only one mild case of urinary blockage under his belt, the worst he suffered from was mild obesity. The vet put him on weight reduction food, little pellets that produced their equivalent at the other end. He still had his accidents, and his aim wasn’t always great. But he continued to be sweet and gregarious in his own way most of the time, except when he became a bit ornery. Very infrequently, he bit me. Always had: his payment for my having declawed him, perhaps? He then became very contrite.

We continued to have our morning ritual: a stroll on the patio. Just a little bit. Just enough. He was then content to sit in the sunshine streaming in through the wall-to-wall windows in my study, at my feet. Always close, but not too close. And he continued to be my weathervane in every aspect of my life.

I’d been invited to a society wedding. You’d think I was the one getting married, from the way I carried on. Three dresses later, I was ready. But not before I paraded around the apartment in two of them. Which do you like better, dear? We chose wisely.

That weekend turned us around, yet one more time. Less than two months later, I bought a house. My house. Our house. A month after that, we moved in.

Horace loved the house. He loved rushing out the French doors to the back patio to chew on the grass. I always stopped him, for I thought it was bad for him. He always upchucked the grass (and, for many years, had eliminated his fair share of hairballs). You should let him – it’s good for him, some people told me. I still wasn’t sure.

His favorite place, however, was the garage. The place had – has – an energy. It was at its strongest, though, when we moved in. The Pootie used to run in the moment I opened the door, lay, paws out, on the Mexican tile, and purr and purr. So now we had a new ritual.

Not to mention old rituals, such as licking fat-free tapioca pudding off a little spoon that we both managed to share. Not the most appetizing in many people’s eyes, I’m sure, but… well, what can I say?

For over a year, we’d also been watching Sex and the City together. He loved the opening music: he wagged his tail. He’d always been a tail wagger, though, and had almost always come running to me when I called his name, either wagging that tail, or holding it straight up in the air.

When he’d been a kitten, some girls across the hall had had a little dog. No hissing, no arched back, on the part of my little fluff ball. Instead, a lot of tail wagging, and chasing each other, round and round, in circles. For Horace thought he was a dog, and, indeed, canine loving friends referred to him as my dog-like cat.

Beginning to settle in, yet still surrounded by boxes, I took a trip about three weeks after moving in. I boarded Horace at my mother’s vet, who’d taken care of Boqui and Pandy, my father’s Norwegian elkhound. Returning home, I laid out fresh food and water, as was our custom. He ate, drank, and used his #1 litter box (he also had his #2 box): nothing unusual.

That was Monday night. By Wednesday night, though, I noticed something was wrong. Or, rather, he pointed it out to me: all but leading me to the litter box, he pawed at the litter, at the sides of the box. Nothing. Horace was neither urinating, nor defecating.

Rushing him to the vet, they diagnosed his urinary obstruction, catheterized him, and observed him for several days. Responding to the treatment for the cystitis, he still had problems pooping. They gave him an enema.

For the first time in his life, my cat urinated outside the box. He was ashamed: I could feel it. He appeared to be so tired, so listless. All he did was sit on his chair or on the bed.

He continued to not poop without the aid of enemas. The vet finally gave it a diagnosis: megacolon. He’d probably had it all his life. All those little gifts he’d been leaving outside countless litter boxes since he was a baby. All of a sudden, the nickname I’d so fondly given him did not appear to be as amusing.

Boqui and Pandy’s vet had given up on my baby: I could tell. Not in a bad way. If anything, he’d made a point of telling me, “You love each other.” He hinted at a growth. Everyone at the office had cried when my mother had Boqui put to sleep. Some family legacies are best not continued.

In desperation, I asked my very commonsensical friend what I should do. Get a second opinion, he said. So I consulted with my equally commonsensical realtor, who recommended her own vet. He treats illnesses aggressively, she said.

The new vet did, indeed, put Horace on an aggressive regimen of Metamucil, stool softeners, and my ancient, yet potent, supply of Propulsid, as needed. As the drug was/is off the market, for humans and animals alike, I was lucky to have some. 1997 seemed so long ago – had the doctors in DC known, I wonder.

The Pootie was always pretty good about swallowing pills, but I could tell that this was a major effort for him. It was torture. But he let me minister to him as best I could. Twice a day, I prepared a medical mishmash for him. I had litter boxes in strategic locations. He was urinating again. Copiously. I’d bought a little electrically propelled water fountain for him. All he seemed to do now was drink water, urinate, and rest on either the furniture or the bed. And he had begun to follow me around the house.

One day, he almost climbed into the shower with me. No, I’d said. It wouldn’t have made sense to let him stay, but I appreciated the thought.

He hated the mishmash. Although I’d never spoiled him with wet food, it was about all he wanted. And then, not much of it: just the juices. He still nibbled at the tapioca pudding, but less. He still accompanied me when I watched TV. He still slept on the bed with me. And he most certainly was following me around the house.

I’d taken his second Christmas picture over Thanksgiving weekend. Anguished, I wasn’t sure whether to send it out. When I finally did, my hairdresser sent me a rare card, informing me that’s exactly what Horace would like. I had done the right thing.

Propulsid began to figure more and more into his every other day diet. It was the only way. And then I waited, at least every other day, for a miracle. Yes, we got the miracle, but at enormous cost to both of us.

He still enjoyed going outside and into the garage. One day, I snapped away, inside, outside, and in his garage. The picture of him in the garage captured his beautiful turquoise eyes.

My electrician paid us a courtesy call. I was in pajamas. I’d lost weight. I was so grateful, as I was for my Indo-Chinese banker’s visit with her sister and their children on Christmas Eve. He smells so good, one of my friend’s daughters exclaimed when she picked him up in her arms. Never one to tolerate being held for too long – unless he was deigning to dance with me – it appeared as if Horace had finally mellowed a bit. You can teach an old cat new tricks, after all.

Several days later, I’d stopped seeing results, even from the Propulsid. I was supposed to leave two days later to visit my commonsensical friend. So I called the vet. Please take him two days early. They agreed.

I took Horace for one more walk in his yard. When we got to the garage, he stopped. He wouldn’t go in.

Leaving him at the vet, I remember a bit of an ignominious farewell. The tech just whisked him away. At the old vet, at one point, he’d extended a paw out to me.

The plan was to observe him for several days, continue with the Propulsid protocol, and then to perform a partial colectomy. Given recent advances in veterinary medicine, this technique bode a good prognosis, the vet said.

The week passed. It was New Year’s. The operation was scheduled for January 3, 2003.

I called the vet the following morning. Tearfully, he informed me Horace had had trouble tolerating the anesthesia. He’d wrapped him up in a blanket, and, when he’d returned to check on him two hours later, my baby had passed away.

Shock. Can’t quite call it anger. Denial. More shock. Numbness. Grieving. My Second Soul had left me. Iskra had hurt; Horace’s passing seared me to the core.

The vet performed an autopsy. He discovered the intestines in very bad shape, plus there was a growth. My old vet had most definitely known what was coming.

I had Horace cremated, and now have his ashes in a beautiful maple urn. It sits on top of the fireplace, with his final Christmas picture to the side. Eleven and two-thirds years, more or less.

Many cats. Many souls. But only one Second Soul.

Rest In Peace, all you souls. I wouldn’t be surprised if, especially, Tweed and Horace have found each other. Iskra’s happy in her waterbed in the sky, and The Mitten is bellowing, with his mother, Tullia, covering her delicate ears as best she can. Zunz is still trying to live down his namesake, and Patty’s no longer scared of making his debut.

But The Pootie is waiting for me to give him his next spoonful of tapioca pudding. And he’s proud of what’s coming out of this “silver box” – a.k.a., my VAIO laptop. Go play with Boqui and Pandy, Horace: you’re family.

Copyright, 2004 by Georgina Marrero 5039 words All Rights Reserved

My Third Soul, Bianca, December 2005. Tomorrow, December 17, marks two years since Bianca came into my life. I wrote "Souls" in December 2004 (and last modified it right after midnight on December 17, 2004). Could I have known, a year in advance, that My Third Soul was on her way?

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