Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Holiday Letter 2003

(The much-awaited annual letter from the Plamondon household...)

Another year has come and gone. Doesn't it seem unfair that time speeds up the older we get? That this is coming to you as a New Year's greeting--rather than a Christmas letter--should give some idea how far behind I am...

Things here seem to go on the same from year to year. Denny is still spending two weeks each month working in Cold Bay and points west, while I hold down the fort. Or maybe that should be "hold down the cat house..." Between work and caring for the house and its inhabitants, I keep pretty busy. Maybe that's the secret to happiness--every life has it's hills and valleys, but we can't complain. If the past year was a busy one, we still found time to enjoy some perfect summer days and spend some time out on the water. Though not necessarily at the same time. Our gorgeous summer was interrupted for one week of wind and rain in August. Coincidentally at the same time my brother and nephew were visiting from Ohio. Doesn't it figure?

Thus far the winter has given us a bit of everything from zero-degree mornings to blizzards. Thus far this week it has gone from clear and near-zero to 45-degrees and rain and back to snow, with occasional forty-knot winds. At least the weather keeps life exciting.

In October I got my 20-year pin from the FAA. I still owe Uncle Sam a year and some odd months, so I am not ready to make my habitual laziness a life style just yet. Denny has another four or five years to go, so I may wait until he is close to retiring before I quit. I need something to get me out of the house...

Speaking of twenty years, this year was the twentieth for Denny and I. In some ways, the time has gone by fast--and in others, it feels as if we have always been together and that I have only faint memories of life before Dennis. It has been fun and interesting.

In family news this year, my Mom was diagnosed with a heart condition. What she thought was the flu in May never quite left her and she had grown so weak by August that she had to cut short her vacation in Valdez with Dad and my brother David. In September, after the family nagged her into seeing a doctor, it was discovered that she was in fact in heart failure. A pacemaker was implanted in September and two stints put in place at the start of December. Three days before Christmas, she was medevaced to Anchorage with suspected heart attacks, and the family spent a tense night until the doctors determined that her heart and assorted appliances were in fact working as expected (which was reassuring to hear) and her symptoms
were due to some unrelated problems. She got medical attention for those and was back in Fairbanks on Christmas Day.

Dennis was supposed to go out to Cold Bay on the 23rd after a week at home, but while Mom was in the hospital, he decided he needed to stay close to home. So one benefit from the whole incident was that he was able to be home for Christmas. I pretty much concentrated on spending time with him while he was home. I cooked Christmas dinner for us on Christmas Eve (I had to work Christmas afternoon) and we enjoyed the time together. Since we got considerable snowfall last week, it was nice that he was home to keep the driveway clear and the vehicles in prime running condition. He went back out to Cold Bay on Saturday.

As our cats grow older gracefully, it is inevitable that we have to say farewell to one or two each year. We lost Rosie in February after a long and mysterious decline. She had been with us for five years, which was long enough to smooth away the memories of her previous bad home. Knowing that she had been happy with us gives us some comfort, but it was hard to let her go. Even harder was losing our Little Black Newt after fifteen years. She had been the second cat we acquired after we moved to Homer and had grown up with our home. She leaves a lot of good memories--and a hole in our hearts--behind her.

Still, we ended 2003 with a net gain in the feline department--not really a matter of our own choosing but what are we going to do? Sunspot and Toby John were older cats (14+ years) that had no chance of finding homes when they were dumped at the Animal Shelter--their owner had decided she no longer had time for them. We decided we could spare a little time and space for these two veterans.

The kittens--Lola and Clarence--were more a matter of happenstance than our own choosing. In August we discovered the little, abandoned tortoiseshell we had fed through last winter had kittens--four of them. We trapped them--and her--and her mate for good measure. The adults were neutered and the kittens went to the Animal Shelter. Momma turned out to be very friendly and very young. We found her a home with friends in Cold Bay. Daddy was seriously feral and wanted nothing to do with humans, so we let him go back into our yard. He lives on our property and eats on the porch, which seems to be the best that we can do for him. Two of the kittens went to new homes in Kodiak, and the other two came back home--to be "socialized", officially, but frankly, they are here to stay.

In my defense--Denny brought more vehicles home this year than I did cats...

Yep, he hit it big at the State vehicle auction--scoring two Crown Victorias (retired police cars), a nice Suburban with automatic transmission, and a two-wheel drive Chevy pickup. He also got a One-Ton Ford pickup in bright State Orange with a utility body. Then there is the 1953 6x4 International tow truck in army colors that came from Cold Bay on the ferry. So we have a deal--I don't say anything about the vehicles and he doesn't complain about the cats...

Actually, I really enjoy driving the Crown Vics around. It is a change of pace from the usual pickup truck.

Well, I will close for now with our wishes for that the best in life may come your way in 2004. You are often in our thoughts across the miles. Have happy holidays and enjoy yourself in the coming year...

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Surrounded By Cats On A Snowy Evening

(With Apologies to Robert Frost)


Whose cats these are, I think they know,
Who saved them from last winter's snow,
Who took them in and kept them near,
Who fed them, groomed them, watched them grow.

Our friends all thought it rather queer
To take in strays, and voiced the fear
That allergies and such would make
Us rue the day throughout the year.

It hasn't turned out a mistake
Though on occasion things *do* break,
And cat fur, difficult to sweep,
Clogs the Hoover's small intake.

They lie around us, heap by heap.
Outside the snow again is deep.
Inside, we've promises to keep
And cats to feed before we sleep.

--Sondra Rosenberg

(used with the kind permission of the author)

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Christmas Eve

Denny and I aren't much on gifts at Christmas time. I don't know if it is because we feel having each other is gift enough or that we tend to buy each other things during the year as the spirit moves us. Usually I buy the cats a few things and call it good.

I went out yesterday and bought the cats a big pet bed--a pillow that would sleep a Golden Retriever in comfort, and tossed it on the floor in front of the woodstove. In less than fifteen minutes, three cats were sharing it. I also bought Toby a new litter box. Actually, it is a ten gallon Rubbermaid tote. Toby is large and long-bodied and had been having trouble confining his--ah--efforts to the inside of the litter box he previously used. This one is much more spacious and I hope will solve his problem.

I bought Denny and I some DVDs but we opened and watched them as soon as he got back from Florida last week.

Homer has gotten clobbered with snow over the past few days, so after I got home from shopping yesterday, Denny loaded the snow-blower in the Dodge and we went down to cousin Sue's place to clear out her drive and parking area. The amount of snow has been an inconvenience but the homes and lights of Homer sure look pretty and Christmas-y all swathed in white.

We ended up staying to watch a video and ordered in pizza and had a bit of a party, the three of us. It was fun.

I have to work tomorrow afternoon and evening, so today, after I got home from the Shelter, I cooked a turkey and two kinds of stuffing and a green bean casserole. That, along with a salad and pumpkin cheesecake, made our holiday feast. We fell asleep feeling well-satisfied.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

It was another of those nights where I drifted between sleep and wakefulness, wondering what was happening in Anchorage. The small hours of the night... I tried distracting myself by watching the documentaries on "The Two Towers" DVD while Denny dozed beside me.

He was awake before me and brought me coffee when I finally swam to the surface. We watched the morning news while wondering when it might be a good time to call Providence. I finally called about eight-thirty and fretted during the long delay between asking for my Mom's room and getting an answer. The nurse came back on the line to say that she was in the Catheterization Lab. I took that as a good sign--at least she wasn't in surgery.

An hour or so later, Dad called to update us. It turns out that the pacemaker and the stints are working just as they should and the pain Mom has been experiencing was not her heart.

(big sigh of relief...) Now--perhaps-- we can try to enjoy the holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Winter

It has been snowing and blowing since yesterday.

Just about the time that the last daylight had faded and I turned on the airport beacon, Denny called to tell me that Dad and Mom were in Anchorage--they had to medievac Mom to Providence Hospital again. I don't have much information right now and am walking in circles in the Flight Service Station, looking out at the snow-darkened night and wondering what I should do.

Denny is *supposed* to fly to Cold Bay tomorrow--he is hours away from leaving home to drive up the road to Anchorage. This close to the holidays, flying into or out of any of the smaller towns is problematic so if he went and needed to come back home in a hurry, it wouldn't be possible. He is asking if he should stay until we have some idea what the situation with Mom is--or go. and I don't know the answer. I want to be in Anchorage to see my parents, to know what is going on--but I don't want to fly or drive in this weather.

Everything is up in the air tonight.


***

We stood in the kitchen talking over the possibilities after I got home from work, and decided that Denny will take a few days of leave and stay home until we know just how serious the situation with Mom is.

I knew it was the right decision from the feeling of relief I felt once it was made.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Nox Longissima

Stella Clarissima
Nox longissima
Caeli enarrant
Gloriam Dei...


It has been snowing heavily since before sunset--dry, fine flakes that shroud the earth and muffle light. With the visibility down to a mile, it is dark outside, the distant world cut off. Shortly after I get home from work tonight, the solstice will pass--the moment when our planet stops in its flight away from the sun, the crest of the arc, the moment's pause before we start the long fall back toward summer. I will pour a glass of wine and stand outside in the silently falling snow, waiting to feel some pulse through my bones to telegraph the moment that the Earth passes that invisible point in its orbit that makes the return of summer, so distant, inevitable.

The longest night is here...

This is surely the oldest of human holidays--and every winter celebration traces its roots to this point of potential.

"Tell me your dreams...in the time of Winter."

Saturday, December 20, 2003

10 inches of snow on the ground

Friday, December 19, 2003

Good-Bye

We all come from the Goddess
And to Her we shall return
Like a drop of rain
Flows into the ocean...


We buried Newt this today, under the pale light of mid-winter morning.

It brings me a measure of peace to have her safely put away into the dark womb of Earth. Until the last sad act was completed, her dying was unfinished and raw. Now she sleeps under the snow with Sparky and Rosie and Toby and too many others.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Kittens

We took the kittens into be spayed/neutered yesterday. Being young and healthy, they came through the ordeal as well as can be expected. I just hate the thought of the pain they endure. Veterinary science still hasn't come far enough--in my opinion--toward the treatment of pain.

We brought the groggy little buggers home and shut ourselves in the bedroom with them--watching videos as they slept off the anesthetics. We hope the enforced intimacy, the comforting, will help overcome their residual wildness. They *did* lay on me in weary little heaps most of the afternoon and evening, so perhaps they are starting to realize we aren't quite as fearsome as they have thought.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Comfort

It is good to have Denny back home. In the darkness of winter, he is warmth and comfort.

We are wrapping ourselves in softness. Thanks to sales at the warehouse store, we have bought flannel sheets and flannel lounging pants and big, thick socks for our feet. Denny brought home some sheepskin slippers from Florida so I feel like I am walking on clouds. The wood stove fills the house with a radiant warmth--captured sunlight from summers long past. We snuggle into our soft bed, surrounded by our cats, and dreams the long nights away.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Tree Wraiths

The kittens are having way too much fun with the Christmas trees. The Toe Wraiths have morphed into Tree Wraiths...

After clearing a space and setting up my brand new, pre-lighted $150 tree upstairs, I quickly reconsidered when I couldn't keep the kittens out of it. They found the novelty just too interesting to leave aone and I had visions of the little demons clawing or chewing through a wire and ruining the whole tree--and themselves.

So, in a flash of inspiration, I moved the new tree downstairs and set up the old tree upstairs, thinking to distract them from one novelty with another. Silly me--why would they settle for one novelty when they could have two?

I left both trees undecorated for a while in the hope that they would lose their novelty over time. That never happened, so I ended up putting non-breakable decorations on the upstairs tree and break-resistant things on the one downstairs. They enthusiastically remove glass icicles and beads from the tree upstairs and use the one in the dining room to get up to and down from the window sill. I am bending the branches back into position daily. Still, I have the hope that next year this time--as sober adults--they will confine themselves to sleeping underneath.

We shall see.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

28 degrees
Snow began about 8 am, heavy by 9 am.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

I had a call from Mom this morning. They are back in Fairbanks.

She was released from the hospital on Thursday and spent Friday at Providence House, just for observation, before being cleared to go home. All the Fairbanks-bound flights were booked except for the early one this morning, so they had to get up at four-thirty in go to the airport.

So, she was home resting in her chair with her dog nearby as the sun was just rising on a cold Interior day. That has to beat lying in a telemetry bed in the CCU in Anchorage. I know I feel a bit more secure in knowing she is back where she belongs.

Friday, December 05, 2003

18 degrees
6 inches of snow on the ground
Clear skies

Thursday, December 04, 2003

36 degrees
10 inches of wet snow on the ground

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Update

34 degrees
14 inches of wet snow on the ground
Very windy with rain


What a long night.

I waffled last night over jumping a flight to Anchorage. If the worst happened, Dad would need me. Joanne had called to assure me that if I needed to go north for any reason (so much is left unsaid) they would take care of the cats. I wandered around the house, filling water dishes and topping off dry cat food, trying to decide what to do.

Not to decide is to decide, however, and the late news sealed my immobility, with blizzard conditions forecast to be moving into southcentral Alaska by morning. Not a day to be jumping any flights anywhere.

I went to bed and slept fitfully with much tossing and turning. The sound of the wind outside confirmed the deteriorating weather. I pitched between sleep and wakefulness, waiting for the phone to ring...dreading that it might. Was she in Anchorage yet? Were they going to go right into surgery or wait until morning?

***

About nine or so, the phone finally rang. It was Dad. They had decided to a heart catheterization on Mom before resorting to surgery, and located two blocked arteries which they restored with stints. The major blockage that they found in September is too large to be remedied with a stint but they are trying medication in the hope it may help dissolve or lessen the blockage.

Bottom line--no surgery. Dad said the doctors were very pleased with the results they got from the procedure this morning and that Mom was looking good.

So...it would seem another crisis has been averted.

All this sure isn't doing *my* heart any good. I spent last night wondering if I was still going to have a Mommy come daylight.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Heart

Zero degrees
9 inches of snow on the ground


So, when I called KBBI yesterday afternoon to find out where the pet-loss support group was meeting, I discovered I had heard wrong--the group meets on Thursday evenings. Which explains why I have never attended though I certainly have enough grief credentials... I work every Thursday evening.

So I guess I just have to work through this on my own. It would be easier if Denny were home. I would have someone to talk to about it, someone who feels her loss like I do.

He will be home in a week-and-a-half.

I had a list of things to do after work on Monday, and surprisingly, I got them all done before coming home, bribing the cats with food and falling into bed. I made myself get up by six-thirty and did chores, loaded the dishwasher, brought in wood for the fire, cleaned litterboxes, etc.

I got up today with every ambition of getting a lot done around the house. Just like every Tuesday. I was sitting at the computer, checking my email, when the phone rang. It was Dad.

Mom was in the hospital in Fairbanks. She had gone to see her doctor this morning and he sent her right to the ER. She had apparently had a mild heart attack over the weekend--her pacemaker saved her--and blocked arteries in her heart were causing quite a bit of stress on the muscle. They were going to try to stabilize her in Fairbanks and see if they could reduce the stress. If not, they would medievac her to Anchorage with the possibility of her having bypass surgery.

Dad sounded rather breathless but composed and he asked me to notify family and friends of the situation, so I sent out emails and left phone messages and kept telling myself that she is in a lot better shape now than she was in September.

It is my own sense of security that is fragile.

* * * *

Dad called a little while ago to say that they are medievacing Mom to Anchorage. Considering that he was at home grabbing a few things before rushing off to the flight, he sounded pretty good. A few minutes after I got off the phone with him, Richard called to tell me the same thing. He said they were praying for Mom.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Grief

9 inches of snow on the ground


The intensity of my grief over Newt's passing still grips me.

I can't seem to stop crying. I don't mean that I am constantly weeping, but several times a day the memories flood over me and I find tears runing down my face. There is a good cry in me that need to come out but there is no place for me to do it. Bawling my eyes out at work is problematic. I am racked with sobs driving to and from town but have to maintain some measure of control for safety reasons. As for letting loose at home--well--

The other day I was out in the shop holding Johnny when the memories grew too intense and I started crying. Almost immediately, I was surrounded by sympathetic, concerned cats. It was heart-warming in its way but reminded me that the cats are sensitive to my moods. I don't want to distress them with my grief.

I joined a Yahoo pet loss support group last week but when I logged in to talk about all this, I found them embroiled in a flame-war regarding religion. So that wasn't a safe place to expose my raw emotions.

I keep thinking of how limp she in my arms at the end. How her resolute little heart wouldn't stop beating but kept ticking away like a pulsar in the heart of a black hole. Her body was so weary but her valiant spirit kept on.

The little twitch of her whiskers when her heart finally stopped...

It sounds morbid but it was hard for me to relinquish her body. I know it is just the husk of her earthly form. I know she is gone. But even after I had her wrapped and zipped in the body bag, I found myself holding the bundle, drawing some comfort from the familiar shape of her curled form in my hands. Such a precious, loved little package she made--so many memories and so much grief wrapped up in that parcel.

Only when the faint but unmistakeable odor of decay became evident could I bring myself to put her outside in the shed where the cold will keep her until we can bury her properly.

***

I caught the end of an announcement on the radio this morning about a pet loss support group meeting this evening. I just have to find out where. That seems like it could be the place where I can finally abandon myself to my sorrow.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

You Can Close Your Eyes

Well the sun is surely sinking down
But the moon is slowly rising
So this old world must still be spinning around
And I still love you


Little Black Newt is gone.

I took her in yesterday afternoon, just as the day was ending.

I knew the time was close when I got home from work on Monday. Her eyes wore a faint haze of pain and she complained whenever I lifted her. She was wobbly on her feet, but her appetite was good and I still clung to the hope that she would go peacefully in her sleep.

As if I didn't know better than that, after fifteen years together. Tenacious, intense Newt wouldn't let go of life easily. Not without help.

I brought her up on the bed with me Monday evening several times, and gave her some fluids, but I dozed off and when I woke, she had wandered off. I wanted her to sleep with me that night, to hang on to the last few moments of peaceful togetherness, but she was restless, as if seeking something, and when I would rouse and go look for her, I would find her lying wearily in the back room or at the foot of the stairs. I can't imagine what a perilous and tiring journey the trip downstairs was for her...

Tuesday morning, when I found her collapsed in the litterbox, unable to right herself and get out without help--I knew it was time. I dashed around, preparing the carrier and waiting for the vet's office to open so I could call. But as I was cleaning the cat boxes to dissipate my nervous energy, I asked myself what my hurry was. Why was I in such a rush? Was I rushing to out-run the inevitable or to avoid thinking about what was to come?

So I made the appointment for the late afternoon--we would have one last day together.

I tempted her with all her favorite foods, but she just turned her face away from my offerings.

Her hindquarters grew weaker. I found her lying half in and half out of her sleeping box, as if her legs had given out as she tired to climb in. I helped her into her sanctuary and sat on the floor with my hand inside the box, resting on her as she lay there quietly.

From time to time during the day, I would go and sit with her, putting my hand in to feel her breathing. I put my favorite Christmas CD on downstairs and turned on tree lights. I had wanted Newt to see one last Christmas and this was the best I could do for her. Or for me. The whole day was--all in all--painful and too short.

There was a part of me that was recoiling from the reality. I kept finding things to do, keeping myself busy so I wouldn't think too much about what was coming. Then I realized that this was unfair to Newt. I was frittering away her last day--our last chance to spend time together before eternity took her. I forced myself to slow down, to stop my busy work and go back and visit with her, touch her, tell her I loved her.

I planned on running my errands before the vet appointment, so that the truck would be warm for Newt's final ride but I found myself with time on my hands and decided to go ahead and run my errands early so I could spend some quiet time with Newt before we had to go.

While pumping gas in the cold wind, I gave myself a mental shake for my lingering indecision--she's old and she's tired and she's in pain--just let her go. I knew I had to--but it was one of the hardest things I have yet to do.

I got back home with nearly an hour to spend with Newt. She was lying where I had left her. I gently carried her in and placed her on the bed, then sat on the floor with my arm along her back, feeling her warmth. She purred a little at my touch but mostly we just sat together in the darkened room in silent companionship.

The memory of those quiet moments are sweet. I wish I could have frozen time and stayed like that with her forever.

But too soon it was time to start the truck and bring the carrier up from where it had sat warming all day next to the wood stove. I tucked a hot water bottle in one end of it and laid the plush cat blanket inside. Then I gathered up her insubstantial little form and put her inside. She protested weakly but quieted down once we were in the truck and on our way.

The sun was setting in clear colors of peach and blush and blue as we pulled up to the vet clinic. In fifteen minutes, Newt was gone, too.

I held her, looking into her eyes as they grew more unfocused and distant, as she grew more limp in my arms. The end is always so quiet--but the final twitch of her lips as her heart stopped just about broke my own heart.

It hurts so much to let her go, my little Newt, my silky black kitty. How I hated to let you slip into your final sleep, because I will miss you so.

So close your eyes
You can close your eyes
It's all right


Driving back up Baycrest with my sad burden, I recalled the tiny black kitten who had ridden up that hill with me fifteen years ago. She had settled into the warmth between my knees as I worked the clutch on the Datsun and stayed there, purring, all the way home...

I suppose it sounds sick or morbid, but I drew some comfort from preparing her for burial. I suppose some of it is the psychological need to convince my heart that she really was dead. I had to stifle my urge to protest when Dots had curled her body ("just like she came into the world") into the moisture-proof bag--"But she can't breath in there..." On the trip back home, I found myself driving with the extra care I always did when I had one of the cats with me even though Newt was past caring how quickly I cornered or braked.

I had washed a scrap of plush, white fabric to wrap her in. I spread it out and laid her on it, curled in the compact shape of a sleeping cat. There was a bittersweet comfort in touching her dear body, the familiar thick black fur, hanging on to the sensation for as long as I could. Weeks ago, I had found her collar with her name tag. I slipped my silver ring on to it before placing it around her neck. I let my hungry fingers caress her just a few more times before wrapping the fabric around her and binding it with strips of linen. No Egyptian princess was ever prepared for eternity with more loving--or heartbroken--hands.

What a small package she made.

So much of her essence seemed to imbue that parcel, I couldn't bring myself to put it out in the cold just yet. I tucked a sprig of autumnal-colored silk flowers under on of the strips of linen and added a black raven's feather before I zipped the bag closed around her and put her in the back hall.

So this old world must still be spinning around
And I still love you

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Reprieve

I couldn't do it.

I thought I was prepared. I had set the alarm for eight-o-clock this morning--just enough time to get up, preheat the car, throw on some clothes and go.

I gave Newt the last of the second bag of fluids last night. She showed some interest in eating but several hours later it all came back up. I washed her face and paws and brought her up on the bed to sleep with me. She stayed, softly purring, for fifteen or twenty minutes but then she wanted to go into the back room again.

The night was long. I had turned the furnace up and kept the woodstove loaded because I fancied she may have been cold. She has grown so thin, it is hard for me to imagine otherwise, but she seems to prefer the quiet and seclusion of the back rooms, which are the coolest in the house, so I don't know...

I woke once during the night to find she had joined me again on the bed, but she stayed only a few minutes before drifting off again.

I woke about seven and lay in bed listening to the morning news. After a while, I got up and checked Newt. She was resting in the back room. I began to clean and warm the cat carrier. I put a soft plush blanket in the bottom and a bottle of hot water, slipped inside woolen socks, on either end.

When the alarm finally went off, I thought, "In an hour, this will all be over..." I went into the bedroom and shut it off.

I dressed in the houseclothes I had worn yesterday--wanting to smell familiar and comforting to Newt. I went outside and started the car to let it warm up. I put my purse and the carrier out in the car. Then there didn't seem anything more to do but gather Newt up in a soft blanket and carry her out.

Carrying her out of the house that has been her home for the last fifteen years--the house that grew around her. I let her lay swaddled in my lap rather than putting her in the carrier. She eventually relaxed and purred as we took to the highway. Her little paws pressed and relaxed against my hands, kneading my skin gently.

I drove down Baycrest with tears pouring down my face.

It just didn't feel right. Waiting in the small room for Dots, I was seized with the desire to scoop Newt up and just leave, take her back home. There was just too much life left in her. She was still soldiering along. To take her life from her now, while she was still fiercely engaged in maintaining herself, would rob her of something I couldn't replace. I would be crushing out some bright spark... I couldn't do that indignity to her resolute little soul.

Dots was most patient with my indecision, trying to be supportive of whatever I decided. So, Newt came back home, with another bag of sub-Q fluids and some anti-nausea medications.

Yes, every day is a quiet agony for me, because I can see someone I love slipping away. I can project into the future to the time when there will be no Newt, just the memories of the years we have shared. So I grieve in advance for my loss. But Newt doesn't see that--she follows her own path, her own destiny. Until I am sure it is *her* suffering I am abating, I can bear with my own.

I know she is going to die. I have no faith that she will last out the month or see Christmas--but until the fire goes out of her eyes, until she is tired of fighting, I will do what I can for her, so she can die in her own time, in her own way.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

And If I Could Pray...

Say a little prayer for Newt tomorrow morning....

She was so disoriented and wobbly this morning, I knew. I called to make an appointment but my favorite vet wasn't working today. The visiting vet could see us this afternoon, or I could wait until tomorrow for Dots. Having made one decision, having to make another one threw me off step. I was embarrassed by how choked up I got on the phone. I have been expecting Newt to die any day for well over a month but finally talking to someone about it brought out all my emotions. I finally told the clinic I would call back when I had made a decision.

Newt had asked to go out into the shop before I got on the phone, so I went out to talk with her. She was curled on the steps by the door into the house and I sat next to her and curled myself around her and started crying like a baby. She pushed her little paws against me and pressed her head against my lips. Fifteen years. It is so hard to say goodbye--and harder still to have to make the decision. So I sat and cried. It felt good to just let the sadness and frustration and misery out.

I pulled myself together enough to call the Shelter and leave a message that I wouldn't be in today. Then I gathered Newt up and took her upstairs to the bed, nestling her in with a hot water bottle against the pillows. I decided to spend the morning watching the old home videos of her in her youth but had to rewind the tapes. While I was doing that, Newt decided she had had enough of my cuddling and sniffling and wanted to go see the boys in the back room, so I let her go in there for a while.

During all of this, it seemed I had made a decision, so I went downstairs and hit redial to call the clinic--and got Sherry at the Shelter.

I blabbered something about trying to get the vet clinic and when she asked if one of our cats was sick, I tried to explain but just broke down. Sherry managed to piece together what I was blubbering about and was very sweet and sympathetic. After talking with her, I managed to pull myself together enough to call the clinic.

This time I got the vet tech, Cindy. She was really sympathetic and intuitively knew what I needed. "Dots is off today but she'll be in tomorrow. Can you come in first thing in the morning?" I made arrangements and hung up the phone.

I went upstairs, sat on the bed, and bawled like a baby. Little crippled Tiny tottered over to sit beside me, wondering what was wrong. Normally, her duties would have been taken up by Punkin, but Punk was out in the shop slumming. I ran my fingers over Tiny's narrow back and tried to pull myself together.

I can't do this thirty more times. I can't go through this with each of my kitties. It is so hard to put your finger on the calendar and say, "Here--on this date, this life will end..." It's a power I don't want to have.

I know I have done my best for Newt. I know there is no coming back from the condition she has slid into. Life has its seasons and hers is drawing to its close. I just didn't know it was going to be so hard to let go of her.

And if I could pray, my prayer would never end..."

Monday, November 17, 2003

5 inches of snow
Zero degrees

***

My other journal is off-line for the moment. Efforts are being made to rememdy that, but meantime, here I am...

Every Monday starts the same. I sit at work in the quiet hours of the morning thinking of all the things I will do when I get off work. Using Monday afternoon wisely can put me well ahead on my chores. But invariably once I get home, the length of my day catches up with me.

Also, invariably, when the softness of my bed starts calling to me long about three pm, I find someone (one of the ubiquitous four-footed someones) has puked on the bed. Always on Mondays, when weariness pulls me down and the thought of stripping the bed and re-sheeting it is...just...too...much.

What a bunch of comedians those cats are...

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Sliding Toward Solstice

It is cold--damn cold--outside. It's eleven degrees Fahrenheit right now. With clear skies, the temperature will undoubtedly be zero by morning.

The past few days have plunged us from late autumn right into winter, like falling through thin ice into a dark pond. I love Alaska and I love winter but this time of year feels like sliding down an icy slope into a dark pit, fingernails scraping futilely against the unyielding smooth surface in a lame attempt to slow one's descent.

Denny leaves for Florida tomorrow night--the bastard.

Not that I *want* Florida. I'm so fair-complected that my skin comes off like a vampire's under strong daylight.

Warmth would be nice, though.

Like nearly everything in life, we have to pass through the darkness to get back to the light. I shall try to think heavy thoughts and get my spirituality back into some cohesive form so I can appreciate the season, this turn of the wheel. I coast on my contentment for so long that my life goes unexamined. Perhaps I will use Denny's absence to go deeper inside myself, do some meditation, get in touch with the unending.

Meanwhile, the clear night sky presses down on us like a cold iron.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

-- W.B. Yeats

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Catching Up

When did I lose control of my journal-keeping? Was it in October, when Punkin was so sick? Or in September when Mom was hospitalized with serious heart problems? Or back in August, when the convergence of summer visitors and the pressure of outdoor activities and household events made it all I could do to keep up with daily life--much less document it?

Whatever the case, my satchel is littered with yellow sticky-notes and scraps of notebook papers with partial journal entries or rough-sketched notes and dates...so this is a rather catch-all entry.

I haven't really mentioned the kittens yet, have I?

It was the first weekend in August that we noticed we had kittens. Or rather, the little tortie we'd been feeding for the last year or so had kittens. The one I had been earnestly hoping was spayed... Oh well.

I came out the door one morning in August to go to work and two little furballs bolted off in a panic--an orange blur and a white blur. We knew we had to do something or we would be watching little kitties get killed by predators, cars or weather. We watched for a week while making our plans. We wanted to be clear how many kittens there were so none would be left without their guardians when we trapped the whole boatload of them and had the parents neutered. I knew enough feline genetics to know there had to be a black one somewhere in the mix.

Turns out, there were two black ones. The tortie (who I was calling "Baby" because she was so small and delicate-looking) or her mate (a black shorthair who has been hanging around for a bit longer than her) would bring two or three of the kittens down to eat at quiet times in the morning or evening. Rarely were all of the kittens together at one time.

We rigged the cat run so we could pull the door shut from the kitchen window, blocked the cat door from the shop and took to feeding the strays in the cat pen for several days. Their reflexes were so good that it was hard to get the jump on them. Our first attempt netted only the dirty-looking white kitten. He spent a rather miserable night and day alone in the big cage in the spare bedroom, hunched in a hidey-hole and scared spitless. I felt so sorry for the little guy...

The next evening, though, we hit the jackpot, nabbing the three remaining kittens in one fell swoop. We quickly had them stampeded into carriers and transported to the big cage then re-set our trap. With all the commotion, I didn't expect much luck with trapping the adult cats but they both turned up within minutes and began looking for their babies. So we nabbed them as well.

Baby was obviously an abandoned housepet. Within minutes, we had her purring and rubbing against us. her mate was another story--spitting, lunging and hissing. We put him in the smaller cage until we could get him neutered. Once he recovered from surgery--still showing no inclination to be a housecat--we released him back into our yard.

Baby, after her surgery, ended up going to Cold Bay where Denny had found her a home with friends. Denny and I handled the kittens to the point where they would tolerate it, then I took them to the Animal Shelter. After two weeks, the red and the black boys were shipped to Kodiak where they found new homes. But the little black female and the dirty white male were another story.

The little girl didn't seem to be growing as fast as her brothers, so I brought her home to fatten her up. The male kitten--who was slowing turning into a flame-point type a la the Ugly Duckling--was still scared and unsocial, so I took pity on him as well and brought him back home to keep his sister company and--I hoped--get socialized.

Suffice it for now to say we have two four-or-five month-old kittens in the house. The small black female I had at first called "Daisy"--a name that never quite suited her. Somehow the name has changed into "Lola", which seems to be the right one. The ungainly, shy flame-point male I dubbed "Clarence," but Dennis calls him "Pinky" or "Toute-Suite". (Don't ask me--maybe it's that latent French-Canadian blood coming out.) Friendly and fun, Lola is a good candidate for finding a home but poor Clarence is so shy we may be stuck with him.

Come to think of it--I don't have a Siamese-colored cat yet. I am hoping that Denny giving him nicknames signifies some sort of bonding. Also, while I was in Fairbanks, he took a couple photos of the kittens sleeping. We *are* trying to break the causal chain of ever-more cats in our house, but I haven't found my Last Cat yet... Or maybe I have, and his name is Clarence.

I am fine-tuning my low-carb cheesecake recipe. This week, I tried fewer eggs, more cheese and a half-cup or so of whipping cream. I was happier with the results. I made an almond-flavored and a lemon-flavored cake and have been eating a slice of one of those for breakfast. This is *some* diet, ain't it?

Poor Little Miss Newt has good days and bad days. On the good days, I start to think she might make it til Christmas. On the bad days, I fear she has only hours to go. Sometimes, the good days turn out to be bad days when--after being encouraged by her appetite--I find she has lost her previous meal in some out-of-the-way spot. The medications I try to settle her stomach seem to have no effect. I continue to tempt her with her favorite foods but even those seem to have lost their appeal to her. It hurts my heart to feel how thin she has become. I am thinking I will take her in to see the vet tomorrow in case there is anything we have overlooked in making her comfortable. She seems cheerful and happy--purring whenever I pet her--but this morning she seemed distracted and wandered around as if looking for a place to crawl into and hide. She wants to go outside but the weather is forbidding today. I finally let her go into the back room with the boys--there are plenty of cubby-holes to tuck herself away in back there and the boys are scared of her so they will leave her alone.

I hate feeling so helpless and inadequate. I *know* I don't have the power to stop death. Not even medical science has that power. But I always feel guilty and failed when one of our dear cats passes on.

Damn it.

Anyway, on other cat-related fronts, I hopefully have defused some of the tension between Frannie and SunSpot by creating a bed for Frannie atop the cupboards over the sink. Since Sunny appropriated the top of the pantry next to the refrigerator as her own, Frannie has clashed with her several times daily in an attempt to re-claim her favorite sleeping spot. The spot over the sink is even higher and more private, so I am hoping that Frannie will accept it as a substitute and quit baiting Sunny.

Even as his companion fades, Johnny still plugs along with the same innocence and general good health that have characterized his last fifteen years. It is impossible--by looking at him--to guess his age. I was cleaning the cat run a few days ago and he jumped up on my shoulders, wrapping around my neck like a fur stole--something he has done since he was a kitten. His warmth and solidity felt comforting.

Denny is supposed to be home from Cold Bay tonight. The plane leaves late and snow showers are forecast in the mountains. I hope he isn't troubled by them, though he told me that the S10 has studs on all four tires. I guess my days of driving the Crown Vic are very limited now.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Newt

She has good days and not-so-good days.

I noticed on Monday that she was getting dehydrated, so I went down to the clinic and picked up a bag of fluids for her. I had a chance to talk with Dots about her, which made me feel a bit better about letting her go when the time comes.

The fluids are helping her--she has perked up slightly--but I know it isn't enough to reverse the flow of time. She is having trouble keeping her food down. Each day seems subtly more difficult for her, yet she remains a bright and cheerful little cat.

As I got ready for work this afternoon, Newt moved from her place at the window to curl herself on the bed. I passed to and fro through the room, pausing to pet her and hear her steady purr.

A line from a book I read long ago kept running through my mind. In a discussion of purring, the author observed that although it was generally thought purring denoted contentment, cats sometimes purr when they are in distress. "Some have been known to purr while they wait for death."

I stroked her skinny body--it hurts my heart to feel the sharpness of her bones under her still-lush black fur. I rubbed her cool ears then pressed a kiss on the top of her head. I told her how happy we were that she had come to live with us. "Mommy loves you, Newt. You're a good kitty." I couldn't bring myself to verbalize what was in my heart--If you need to go before I get back home, it's okay--I understand...

There is a bitter-sweetness in these last days of our long journey together. I am glad to have her back in the house, back near me for stolen moments of companionship, the quiet, fierce love that still connects us. Fifteen years is a long life for a cat and I can't feel she has been cheated. I suppose it speaks to what a fine cats she is that I wish for more time.

Her passing will mark the beginning of the end of an era, as our first Homer cats leave us, taking with them bits of our own youth. They will continue to live warm in our memories, as surely as the hidden timbers of our house will forever carry the marks of their youthful claws.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Autumn Mist

Yesterday was another foggy, misty day, so traffic at the airport was very slow. The most work we did all morning was answering the phones to tell people when the weather was forecast to improve... Even after the ceiling and visibility lifted, it seemed everywhere else in South-Central Alaska was socked in, so there wasn't anywhere to go.

I spent most of the morning reading blogs and worrying about Newt. I guess there *isn't* much to worry about as she is plainly in the process of moving on, but I worry about her comfort. The blog-reading was depressing. I happened across lisaviolet's diary entry chronicling the last days of Lucky in July, and then spent hours reading a blog recounting the bliss and the pain of a young woman trying to parley friendship into love. Just when she thought that her gorgeous friend felt the same about her--he backs off in that self-excusing way men have. I just want to be friends... I'm not sure what I want right now... and leaves her heart exposed and bleeding. (Lord knows I have done *my* share of unrequited loving. It was the major theme of my twenties.) I felt the pain of both the diarists so much that I felt tired and depressed by the time I was finished.

At that point, I decided to take a couple hours of leave and went home at three. I had brought a cat carrier into town with me for Sue to borrow for moving her cats, but figured when I hadn't heard from her by three that she was going to move them on Monday. Of course, she showed up at work about half-an-hour after I left...

Ambitions for all that I wanted to get done at home aside, I ended up throwing some wood in the stove, putting BeBe outside in his cage and crawling into bed with Punkin and Charlie. I was just dozing off when Sue called. We made arrangements to meet up this morning for a cat carrier exchange, then I settled back into the flannel sheets I had bought as a birthday present to myself. (I like them so much, I went back on Saturday and bought two more sets.)

I dozed until the five-o-clock news came on then roused myself so I wouldn't disrupt my sleep pattern--such as it is. I brought in BeBe and some more wood and fed the cats, then played blackjack on the computer while listening to Dateline and American Dreams on the TV. (I have developed an addiction to blackjack since I bought the Hoyle Casino 2004 CD while I was in Fairbanks.) Then I started puttering around getting my dinner ready so I could eat it while watching Criminal Intent.

There were actually double-Criminal Intents tonight, so I only got to see the new episode once so far. But having double-CI was so nice I don't mind. Afterwards, I found myself dozing during the late news and I finally faded out by ten-thirty.

So of course, I woke up about two-thirty and couldn't get back to sleep. I had finished my soda so went in the bathroom and got some water. Once I got settled again, loud screams from the kitchen sent me downstairs to break up a confrontation between Frannie and SunSpot. While I was there, I turned the wood stove down.

And so back to bed.

Since I seem to fall asleep better when there is some background noise, I turned on the TV again. At some point in the last week or so, a new channel has appeared on our translator--Channel 9--which turned out to be UPN. Also, Channel 13 is coming in much better--they must have done some work on the translator in October. So I found myself watching Andromeda, which I haven't really seen since I discovered Criminal Intent a year-and-a-half ago. By the time the episode was over, I had eight cats on the bed with me. I know--I counted.

Some of the sweetest moments I spend with the cats are at night, gathered together on the bed. Punkin, who sleeps on my pillow, often "holds hands" with me, resting her paw in one of my open hands, or pressing against my head. I will caress Bunny and Pickle when I rouse to turn over, sharing the sweet warmth and companionship of family members in the snug dark.

I shifted around, trying to get comfortable, and most of the cats repositioned themselves to other venues.

Newt came drifting out of the back room like a wraith and I invited her up onto the bed. She settled in with me, purring and licking my hand. As I dozed, she kept staring with vague, distant eyes, as if looking to discern the road that lies ahead. I don't want to over-romanticize her passing but from what I have seen of natural death, there seems to be a period of limbo--hours or days where they are between this world and the next--not fully in either one.

I feel guilty that I am not fighting as hard for Newt's life the way I fought for Rosie's but in the end, I don't think I did Rosie any favors by forcing her to stay alive an extra month. I will force-feed if there is a chance of recovery, but to do so for weeks at a time seems nothing but an indignity when we can see that death is inevitable. I am treasuring each moment Newt shares with me.

She left after about ten minutes to go sit in the window. She wants to go outside but I am half-afraid she will go off to die in some secluded place and I'd never find her. To die alone seems to be a preference for some cats--as if encumbered by the bustle of life.

I finally went to sleep about an hour before the alarm went off. I slept deeply and had intense, confused dreams.

I really hate working the early shift.

Before I went out to the car, I leaned close and petted Newt, trying to tell her that it was okay for her to go if she needed to--not to wait for me to come home. I know that animals don't understand language but I am also convinced that the process of forming thoughts into words does something in our minds that animals can pick up on. Maybe it's not language but animals have no need of language. Who knows what the language centers in our brains used to do, before we developed this gift and this crutch...

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Misty Morning

Another foggy morning.

The airport is quiet. Aside from the phone ringing from people wanting to know when--if ever--the weather will improve, the silence is eerie.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Miss Newt

Little Black Newt continues to drift around the house like a ghost, growing thinner with each passing day. She has thrown up her food a couple of times this week but she doesn't seem to have any discomfort. She crawls up beside me in the evening and purrs--is she saying good-bye?

After the long ordeal with Rosie, I am reluctant to drag her to the vet for heroic measures. What can they do? As Denny says, she is fifteen years old, been hyperthyroid for two years, and she's had a good run. She just seems to be wearing out. She looks at me with tired eyes. I look back, trying to read her state of mind, hoping she will let me know when she is ready to let go. As long as she is enjoying sitting in the window or cuddling with me at night, I will let her be.

She went to the backdoor this morning while I was cleaning litterboxes, so I let her outside for fifteen minutes or so. It hurts my heart to think it may be her last time outside. For fifteen years she has been the busy little soul of our home.

She and Johnny were kittens when we built this place--our first Homer cats. They used to climb up on top of the wall plates and sleep, or dig through the heavy plastic sheeting that during our first winter was all that divided the living area from the shop. Behind the sheetrock of the walls are studs etched with the faint marks of their young claws and errant tufts of fur. Johnny and Newt, more than any of our cats, are a part of this house.

All Souls' Day

Another misty morning.

I came home from work last night and finished setting out the Halloween decorations--mostly just lighting candles and setting up the witch figurine and a couple of candlelabras. I lighted some scented candles and packed the woodstove for the night--it was so warm outside that it wasn't really needed but I was mindful of how thin Newt has grown and I wanted her to be warm enough.

I had left a bowl of candy on the porch in case anyone came by while I was at work, but as usual, no one came trick-or-treating to our house. We are just too far from town. So I am left with a couple bags of minature candy bars which will undoubtedly get eaten between Denny and I although neither of us needs the calories or carbs.

I woke early, feeling rested--unusual for me.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Halloween

This is my favorite-est holiday of the year but other distractions have kept me from throwing myself into the celebration in my usual manner.

This morning, I finally hauled out the three boxes of seasonal decorations and accouterments. I put out two ceramic jack-o-lanterns and the lighted witch, whom I surrounded with small black cat and pumpkin candles. I strew the red leaf lights along the cat yard and plugged in the foam jack-o-lantern on the porch. I hung the black-cat-in-pumpkin-patch banner on the door.

I am doing this just for my own pleasure--we haven't had a trick-or-treater come by since the eighties...

Typically, I could not find the lovely cats-and-pumpkins T-shirt I vow to wear each year. I recall finding it last winter and putting it safely away for this year. If things are true to form, I will stumble across it sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas and put it once again "safely away" until next year, when the process will be repeated.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Memory

I hadn't realized how much pain there was associated in my mind with Fairbanks but even before the plane had touched down--looking out at the familiar, graceless sprawl--my mind was crowded with ghosts and memories.

Perhaps the pain is merely the result of 20/20 hindsight--or the meager wisdom that time and age have granted me. Whatever the case, by Friday the subliminal pain was such that I found myself depressed and waiting for the last few hours to pass so I could go home, fly south to this quiet coastline where I have found peace and happiness.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Fairbanks

After a couple of days, being there began to eat away at me.

There is still a small town underlying the pseudo-urban facade, a frontier town of stark buildings and insular people. It has been nearly two decades since I last lived there, but a lot of pain remains, just below the surface.

There are bittersweet memories of those who were a part of my life at that time...Kisa, Heather, Rick--and who are no more, or who have gone on to other lives. One morning, Mom told me I was welcomed to take the car and go visiting, and I told her that most of the time, it is good for the past to remain in the past. I would certainly have said "Hi," to Rick if I'd run into him, but why seek him out? I have nothing to do with his life now--and he has nothing to offer me. Why walk back into someone's life like a re-animated corpse?

Maybe moving away from Fairbanks was one of the saner accidents of my life.

There was, under the pedestrian grime and smog and homely sprawl something that could still beguile. Maybe it was just an after-image of the past. We walked out of a resturant Thursday night to a display of the aurora that could have dropped a person to their knees. Yet the beauty is frightening in a way, a reminder of the forces that drive the universe and how little the affairs of humans matter in the long run.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Surprises

I guess it is one of those wonders in life that after two decades of living with my best friend, he still has the capacity to surprise me. There are occasional moments of sudden awareness that make me step outside the mundane familiarity and see once again those qualities that drew me to him in the first place.

Several months ago, when I first brought Toby-John and Sunspot home from the Shelter, one of his off-hand remarks stunned me. Toby-John was meowing at the door in a futile attempt to persuade us to let him outside. Without any thought, Denny remarked how much TJ sounded like Sparky...

God. Sparky has been dead over four years. I have wrapped my grief up and held it close to my heart and carried on. There is one Christmas song that conjures his memory to eye-dampening keenness but this is a pain I thought I was carrying alone. That Denny could, and does, recall so clearly to this day what Sparky's voice sounded like floored me. And forcefully reminded me that I wasn't the only one who mourned our little lost kitty-boy. I was carrying my sadness alone. And he was carrying his sadness alone. Together, the sadness is not so heavy.

In the shop last week, while he was petting Demi, our white calico, he murmurred to her, "You little China doll..." What was weird was that I knew exactly what he meant. I have called her that myself, a secret name I was sure no one else would understand. Demi is a solidly-built American shorthair with nothing remotely oriental in her appearance. But her markings--specifically the black against the pure white of her fur--starts the mind thinking down pathways of white porcelain and black enamel, of geisha make-up... I know I have never used that description of Demi to Dennis--it seemed so fanciful. Do our minds really think so much alike that we seperately come up with the same nicknames for our cats?

That's a bit scary.

But it is nice to know that Denny still has the power to surprise and charm me.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Typhoon Season

Denny got in late last night, amid the remnants of a tropical typhoon. Walking outside this morning, the air was warm and still, but the drive and yard had the washed-over look of a beach--the wind and rain having swept them clean of any surface debris.

While I have been distracted by my Mom's health concerns, autumn has come in full force. During the past two weeks, the fireweed has turned from red to brown, the grass from green to yellow. Once the hard frosts hit, the vegetation will lie down, revealing the contours of the land once again until May.

I have purposely left the marking of graves and cleaning of our little cat cemetary until this late season in order to aid in the locating of the disturbed earth. Hannah's is the only spot not marked by a wooden slab, but we put her close to Whiskers, so I know where she is. Not to be morbid, but it probably wouldn't hurt to make a couple new holes, just in case. Our feline population stretches in age from eighteen to three years in age (not counting Lola, the kitten, whose presence is supposed to be temporary) with heavy concentration in the thirteen-to-eighteen age range. It isn't unthinkable that we will lose a cat or two to the ravages of age in the next seven or eight months.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Vanilla Coke

Well, so far I have accomplished very little during my vacation.

I'm sure most of my low-octane mood is a reaction of the highs and lows of the past week or so.

Mom had a pacemaker implanted and was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday. She and Dad drove back to Fairbanks on Thursday and she's now forwarding every inane email that comes into her inbox, so I guess she's feeling back to normal.

That good news was balanced by an admission from Vincent that his marriage is indeed over. My heart hurts for him, because I know this wasn't what he wanted. I can't say it came as a complete surprise, though, because several of us in a small circle of friends have had unformed questions about what has been going on in his life this past year. We suspected but didn't want to hear that it was true. Predictably--and distastefully--since making the announcement to the entire group, he has been innudated by offers of soft shoulders to cry on, as if his pain is someone else's opportunity to make a move. There are those who confuse the desire to possess with love, I suppose. I shall let him be for a while. He knows where I am should he want to talk...and I don't need to tell him how sad I feel for him.

I spent today hanging in suspense--my cousin was supposed to drop by about mid-day for a visit. It is now five pm. I played a few more hours of "Syberia", cleaned the cat boxes, sorted some papers, paid some bills. About three, I lay down with a sci-fi collection for a short doze. Then I got up and sipped a couple of vanilla cokes while searching for livejournals of interest. I'd join a D'Onofrio interest group but they all seem to be exclusively populated with adolescent Australians that go on and on about how "hot" Vincent is. Makes me want to gag.

I was distracted in my web-surfing by Lena's eyes. She was lying in the drawer next to the keyboard--her usual resting place when I am on-line. Lately, cats' eyes have fascinated me. Her iris has the color and texture of beaten gold with greenish tinges. I got out my close-up lenses and tried to capture the beauty.




Think I'll drive into town for a pizza. It's been a month since my last indulgence and I dearly love the butter-crust-three-cheese-with-sausage-and-pepperoni number that Starvin' Marvin's offers...

Saturday, September 20, 2003

The Art of Dying

"But the ending always comes at last
Endings always come too fast.
They come too fast
But they pass too slow...
I love you--and that's all I know..."


My thoughts are very much with my mother right now. Despite the time and distances in our lives, I realize how close we have always been. She has always been an unseen companion to my daily life. I have unconsciously carried on an internal dialogue with her, written unsent letters to her in my mind, imagined her reactions to the events in my life.

Now I have to face the very real possibility of going on without her, of life after mother. Someone you take for granted your entire life, someone who has always been *there*--the "other" whose life encompassed yours even before birth...

I am overcome by the depth of my feelings.

I wonder how it is now for her each day. She knows she has a time-bomb in her chest. Every night when she closes her eyes, does she worry if she will open them again come dawn? Each day is a grace. She seems cheerful and serene. I hope that is not just a brave face. I would like to think that it is possible to find grace at the end of life, to have a confidence to replace fear.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Note To self...

Buy more black T-shirts!

I can't believe that someone who is as fond of black as I am doesn't have more black tops... I muttered as I pawed through my clothes at 5:15 this morning.

This lack needs to be remedied.

I found one but it dates from my "fat" phase and hangs a bit too baggily on me... Thank god for on-line shopping. I can have some new clothes in the mail to my home before I get off work today.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

September Sunday

Cloudless skies and a howling wind out of the north, sending the fireweed cotton billowing across the fields. Frost last night but already promising to be warm today.

Traffic at work is slow.

Tanzanian Peaberry coffee (freshly ground) with a dollop of heavy cream, fresh, locally-produced eggs scrambled with bacon and feta cheese, a Lindor dark chocolate truffle for dessert.

Life could be worse...


Of course, I was fifteen minutes late for work because Lucy Sue didn't want to be found to take her medication. Well, that's a cop-out. I was already running late when I began morning medications because after carefully selecting and laying out my work clothes for today last night, I discovered once I had the outfit assembled this morning that I looked frumpy (!) We can't have that! I'm a Civil Servant--I have an *image* to maintain! (Yeah, right...)

You see, now that I am skinny again, I decided to take the plunge and wear a skirt to work. I'm pretty sure the last time I did that was during the Clinton administration....

So, black tights, black tank layered over a lime green one, and my green/gold/black jungle-foliage-print wrap skirt. So far so good. But the short-sleeved safari jacket I was planning to wear on top just didn't do it. I tried my beige duster and that was even worse. The dark green and light green big shirts didn't do the trick either. Meanwhile--time was ticking away. I tried a couple of mandarin-style tunics in different shades of green but was still dissatisfied.

*Screw it*

I grabbed my black denim blazer. That did it. Or was good enough.

I hate pawing through clothes to find things to wear to work. 1) It's not like anyone at the airport--ramp rats, pilots, grader drivers, airplane mechanics or my fellow ATC specialists--really ever notices what I wear. 2) This is Alaska--not NYC. As long as you are decently covered, no one really cares what you are wearing. 3) I have three closets full of clothes--you wouldn't think finding something to wear would be such a challenge.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Aftermath

I came awake to the sounds of bag-pipes, the mournful sound coming from the always-on television in the bedroom. I rolled over to check the clock...about 4:40 am...the same time I woke up *that* morning two years ago.

The memorial services were being broadcast.

I may finally be ready to write about it--write it all out. The sun is slipping down behind Bluff point as I write this, a ball of red-orange in the hazy autumn air. It has been a beautiful day--cloudless skies--much like that day two years ago.


There's a hole in the world tonight.
There's a cloud of fear and sorrow.
There's a hole in the world tonight.
Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.

--The Eagles


The weather has been clear and mild--much like that September two years ago in the waning days of the summer of 2001 when everything changed. What I write below is based on notes I made during that week in Septemeber two years, a lifetime and a different reality ago...

Long-Winded Prologue

Labor Day had passed and Homer was beginning to quiet down as tourists left. The days were noticeably shorter--a couple early September mornings brought frost under clear skies.

At work, PD had been on leave and I had been working overtime days. I was fighting a sinus infection and so was sleeping a lot, drinking fluids and taking some amoxicillin.

Denny got home from the Aleutians on August 26 and drove to Valdez to spend a couple days fishing with my Dad. He came home on Wednesday with a load of frozen salmon.

By Friday, August 31, I realized that I was itching in a most awkward location and that the amoxicillin had triggered a yeast infection. I applied some generic miconozol that I had on hand, and on Saturday, relunctant to doctor myself for a whole week, I bought some Monostat 3 on my way to work and applied it that night.

When I woke up Sunday, I was still feeling tired and achy. I was not greatly surprised to find red marks on my legs, especially my inner thighs--I always seem plagued by spider-bites in the fall, so I thought no more of it until I got home. By then, when I undressed for a nap, it was obvious I was having a reaction to the miconozol--my inner thighs were puffy and red and the swelling was noticeable on my butt, hands and feet.

I spent a miserable night--woke up in the small hours of the morning feeling chilled and shocky, but figured I could hold on until morning--forgetting that it was Labor Day and the clinic was closed. I tanked myself up on Sudafed and went into the Shelter. I managed to get through my volunteer day, then stopped at the store on the way home to stock up on Benadryl and various anti-itch lotions and creams.

In the meantime, Denny's two-weeks at home were cut short--he had to drive to Anchorage Monday afternoon to catch a flight to Fairbanks for some training before heading out to Cold Bay. So I sent him off and spent another long, restless, uncomfortable night.

Tuesday, I went into the clinic. The PA gave me some Allegra. She could have just as well given me some sugar pills--my hands and face continued to swell and I developed still more hives until I was covered from head to foot. I called her back on Wednesday morning and she phoned a prescription for prednesone into the pharmacy for me.

Blissfully, that did the trick, shutting down my allergic reaction--even my sinuses were clear. I took Wednesday and Thursday off sick from work and basicaly slept the whole time when I wasn't caring for the cats and drinking chicken soup. I worked Friday and Saturday, then felt well enough on Sunday to paint the storage shed.

Those steriods can be marvelous drugs....

About an hour or so into this project, I walked right into the raised backhoe bucket--so busy looking where I was stepping on the uneven ground that I never saw it. I damn near knocked myself out. As it was, I found myself sitting on the ground watching the stars whirl around my head for about half a minute. Once I collected my wits, I put the paint supplies carefully away, went inside, showered, and took a nap.

In retrospect, I should have gone down to the hospital and let them check me out. The thought even crossed my mind. But I didn't have anyone to drive me there and back--what if I was hospitalized? Who would feed the cats?

Anyway, I felt better after my nap and although I developed a large, painful swelling on my forehead, I could pretty much ignore it. (National events would soon take my mind off my vanishing hives and throbbing head--though I realized later that I was probably walking around for most of that week with a concussion...)

The next day, Monday, September 10th, was National Pet Remembrance Day. Our community held a candle-lighting at Bishop's Beach that evening. I had had to work overtime that morning, so I was tired and dehydrated, but wanted to show my support and share memories with the others. We had a nice turn out and it was a cathargic experience. By the time we extinguished our candles and dispersed, the sky was darkening and the breeze off the sea had turned decidedly chilly.

I went home and read a while before dozing off--I had just began the Liaden series and was getting caught up in it. I was scheduled to work the afternoon shift on Tuesday so I planned to sleep in.

Despite being tired, I didn't sleep all that well. I woke a little after four-thirty with a headache and a slightly sick feeling. I went to the bathroom to get some aspirin and a glass of water, then settled back in bed to watch some television until the aspirin kicked in.

I never did get back to sleep.

Channel Two (NBC) was showing syndicated shows--Caroline in the City--but I only had it on for about three minutes or so when NBC broke in with developing news. The scene cut to the World Trade Center streaming smoke into the clear New York morning as the anchors explained that we were seeing the aftermath of a bizarre aircraft accident. An airliner had hit the building--it was hard to judged how big an aircraft it was and I was unfamiliar with the landmarks. I kept wondering how an aircraft could hit such a big obstacle in such good weather? Surely none of the approaches to the New York area airports were so low over Manhattan? It was inexplicable. Any pilot worth his license would have taken his craft into the water before hitting a congested area. Perhaps the aircraft had been uncontrollable... As the news helicopter circled the scene, I kept trying to fathom it.

Then, as I watched, a second aircraft flew in from the right and hit the other, undamaged tower.

I think that for ten seconds or so I told myself that it must have been another news aircraft that had been circling the scene, that it had inadvertently blundered into the building--but the chill of realization caught up with me as the thought crystalized--a thought shared at that instant all across the country--that this was no accident. This was a deliberate act.

That was the moment the paradigm shifted--for me--for millions of others. That was the moment the world--or at least our perception of it--changed forever.

There was a time when Alaska got its television news on a two-day, tape-delay basis. Satellite technology has changed all that. Now I can lie in my bed in Homer, Alaska and watch catastrophe unfold on the other side of the continent. Comparisons have been made to the attack on Pearl Harbor--but Pearl Harbor didn't happen on live TV.

I called Denny in Cold Bay. It was about ten minutes after five and I hated to wake him up, but a bunch of realizations were crowding my mind. The disaster at the World Trade Center was not an accident--it was a terrorist act. These people were hijacking airliners at will. They were killing the pilots and flying the aircraft themselves, because I knew without even consciously considering it that no airline pilot would fly--or allow his plane to be flown--into a crowded building. I knew without a doubt the pilots had been dead before the planes hit their targets.


"Anybody know what that smoke is in lower Manhattan?"
Unidentified aircraft on New York Center's frequency, 8:50 am, Sept. 11, 2001


It was an exhausting week. I didn't sleep well for some days afterward. I was troubled by a dull, persistent headache and work was emotionally draining despite the respite afforded by the nation-wide grounding of all air traffic. The Federal Aviation Regulations were being amended by emergency order several times a day so we would come into work and spend a good forty-five minutes updating ourselves on what the rules were *today*. People turned to us for answers and we didn't always have any for them.

For some time after that awful day, I waited for things to return to normal. Only much later did I come to understand that "normal" would never be what it was before.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Monday, Monday

Once again, I find myself cast up on the far side of the weekend, working my last shift of my work-week before I am quite aware of it. Time is flying past so quickly, I feel like I am running at full tilt and only barely keeping my feet under me...

I need to go back and make some journal entries. I have notes jotted down for various days over the past month or so but August overloaded me, with visitors, sick cats and trapping the ferals just the most noticable of distractions.

Speaking of which, we are moving into autumn. It is September already and there was something that looked suspiciously like *frost* on the deck yesterday morning. The themometer by the back door read 36 degrees. The fireweed has all gone to cotton--the afternoon breezes carry clouds of it. I didn't check to see what the temp was this morning when I rushed out of the house at 5:25 am as it was *dark*.

At least the sunrises/sunsets are now occuring at a more reasonable hour for our enjoyment.

I'm still trying to find my feet in laying out my LJ. I had a background that I wanted to use but so far have only been able to apply it to the public version of my LJ...not the "friends-only" mode.

I am so cyber-illiterate... *sigh*

At least I can still dink around with my Movable Type blog. I uploaded some more photos this weekend...mostly close-ups I took of my wildflowers using my 2x lenses. It's hard to explain the fascination with growing things Alaskans seem to have. I suspect it is an effect of the long winters.

Monday, September 01, 2003

It's Always Something

So, I guess today is a holiday. Holidays--especially Monday holidays--are just regular work days for me due to my schedule. I have done shift-work for so long (basically my whole adult life) that only the pattern of everyone else's activities mark today as a holiday.

Yesterday, we were busy--a confluence of fine weather and the last holiday of summer brought many pilots out to enjoy the day. I got off work at five and went straight home to check on Toby-John. I was concerned about him because he didn't eat much Saturday and he is losing weight.

There wasn't any improvement. He had drank a small amount of water but wasn't interested in food. I coaxed a small amount of baby food into him then went about my chores cleaning the cat boxes. I was tempted to call the vet clinic and talk to the vet on call about Toby--it is a long way to Tuesday from Sunday if you are a diabetic cat who isn't eating.

Out in the shop, I got a surprise. Lucy greeted me from her usual perch above the freezer and as I responded by rubbing her cheek, I noticed she had acquired a large, round swelling on one side of her face. In our defense, Lucy is a round-faced cat with full cheeks, so the swelling--despite it's size--is only barely apparent to the naked eye.

I felt the bump--it didn't seem to be an abcess as there was no discernable wound. When I squeezed it gently, a bit of saliva dripped from Lucy's mouth, so it is possibly some sort of salivary gland problem. I have all manner of fears. Well, one main one--malignancy. It was just a year ago that Frieda had to have her tail shortened due to a fast-growing lump. This location is much more problematic if we are dealing with a cancer. On the plus side, Lucy seems as painfree and chipper as always.

Anyway, the discovery freaked me enough that I called the vet's emergency number and left a message.

Dots called back within ten minutes. I explained my concerns about Toby's listlessness and loss of appetite and the discovery on Lucy. She felt that Lucy was less critical than Toby and we decided I should meet her at the clinic with him in fifteen minutes.

It was about this time that I looked down and decided I really needed to change my T-shirt. You see, I'd changed from my going-to-work clothes into my working-around-the-house clothes when I had gotten home, but couldn't find a handy top. So, I grabbed one of Denny's clean T-shirts that was lying on the back of the couch and shrugged into it. Only *this* was his "Fuck" T-shirt--all over the front and back was written "Fuck" this-n-that ("Fuck Football," "Fuck Television," "Fuck Disco," "Fuck the IRS"...you get the idea. Hey--we didn't buy it; it was a gift.) That might be suitable for cleaning litterboxes but I didn't think it was appropriate for a emergency visit to the vet clinic. So I scrambled back upstairs and found a used-but-clean-enough T-shirt of my own to wear.

I still made it to the vet clinic in twelve minutes. When Dots pulled up, I was sitting on the steps, Toby in my lap, basking in the evening sunshine.

I feel sometimes like a hypochondriac on my cats' behalf and felt bad about calling Dots away from her family on a Sunday evening but once we had Toby on the exam table, her concern told me I had been right in worrying about him. Although the wound on his leg had healed on the surface, there was a pocket of infection inside the leg that was swollen and causing him pain. Dots lanced the wound and shaved the area around it, getting some blood and a small amount of pus. Because of the location, she didn't want to cut into the foot willy-nilly, so we were left with waiting for the infection to force itself out the opening she provided to relieve the pressure. She gave Toby some pain medication and a new, stronger antibiotic. I held him while she bandaged his foot. He should feel important now with an impressive red bandage from ankle to toe. She also sent us home with a feline electrolyte solution to help replenish our depleted fellow.

We go back Tuesday morning to have the bandage and Toby checked again. I scheduled Lucy in at that time as well. I have been spending all my days off at the vet's lately. It seems it's always something.

Anyway, we went back home and by the time I finished cleaning the cat boxes, it was after eight. I had a couple of pork chops thawed out but didn't feel like cooking. Since I have had a hankering for a pizza for a while--a pizza with feta cheese--I succumbed to temptation and called Starvin' Marvin's. I ordered their Great White (a three-cheese pizza) with extra pepperoni and sausage. By the time I had finished feeding the cats, it was time to head once more into town to pick up my dinner.

When I got back home, I coaxed a bit of food and water and electrolytes into Toby, ate three slices of pizza, and went to bed.


Yeah...right.

Last night was my short night--having to be to work this morning by five-thirty, a time that never has come easily for me. The night was made shorter by me being up and down every couple of hours to check on Toby-John and drink some water.

Such a sleep pattern disrupts dreams, so I only recall the last one. I was trying to close the bedroom window and it was coming loose from the side of the house. From the window,I could see a workman below--Denny had a crew coming in to do some rennovations. So I went downstairs to tell him about the window and get his help in fixing it. I could hear him arguing as I went downstairs--arguing with a woman. It was apparent they were in the process of breaking up. I tactfully waiting for a break in the action then went out to the work area and asked for his help. I was a bit uncomfortable when he came upstairs to the bedroom with me--from what I had seen of the argument, he had been on the verge of physical violence--not a person to upset and he was obviously emotionally raw from the conflict.

So, no sooner are we upstairs than he starts hitting on me in a subtle way--asking me what time I got off work and if I ever got off shift early. I lied and said no. He was disappointed because someone had given him tickets to some sporting event in Fairbanks (which apparently is just down the road in dreamland...) I told him as gently as I could that even if I were free in the afternoon, I couldn't go. I showed him my ring and reminded him that I was married (to the guy who had hired him, even!) but thanked him for his offer. That seemed to satisfy him, and he went about making repairs to the window.

I am becoming quite the femme-fatale...at least in my dreams.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

No Clever Title

Driving home tonight in the first darkness of autumn, the moon was a new fingernail of orange-y color in the twilight of the western sky.

There is a sadness in late summer, the realization of things still left to do, of things that will be unaccomplished. It is ironic that life goes by faster and faster just when one learns to enjoy it.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Catching Up

Life has been spinning out of control since about mid-July--back when things got nasty for me at the list. It would appear I have been the target of our resident deceiver and her typical campaign of whispers and innuendos. I went into a funk. The viciousness (Not to mention baselessness) of the attack knocked the wind out of me for a week or so and I began to wonder if I really *was* such a bad person that others would believe those sorts of things about me. I have no talent for this back-stabbing kind of bullshit and it was rather demoralizing.

Thanks to the intervention of a couple good friends, I snapped out of it quickly but came to several realizations about myself and my relationships that have made me concentrate on RL and stop exerting so much effort trying to control what I cannot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Monday, July 28, 2003

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Saturday, June 14, 2003