The Time You Need

Once upon a time, nearly seventeen years ago, my husband mentioned that the cat of a friend of his had produced a litter of kittens and was looking for homes for them. Long discussion short, he brought one home.

TobyThis little, dark gray scrap, dressed in white shirt front and spats for the occasion, sat at attention, his tail neatly wrapped around his feet, for the next day or two in our spare room, refusing to give an inch to catnappers, even though he was swaying with exhaustion, his green eyes closing every few seconds before snapping open.

We named him Toby, though he had a lot of nicknames over the years: Tober, The Tobes, Tobias Eater of Toes, Howler Kitty, and Bean Brain.

By the time I was carrying Jane, he had forgotten his old life and had taken up his role as Firstborn Son and Heir Apparent. He stretched around my distended tummy, and when Jane poked out a foot, he poked back at her. He wasn’t impressed with her during those first introductions, and spent several months elated when we took her out with us and utterly disgusted when we brought her back. I’ll never forget his face when she took her first steps: “Holy $#&%! You didn’t tell me these things were mobile!”

Typing!He acted exactly the same way when Sunny appeared—there’s a reason we dubbed him Bean Brain. But to the kids, he was part of the family and was always included in school drawings, a small, gray, betailed blob next to Mommy, Daddy, Sister, and Me. Sunny put him in her genealogy tree project last year as an adopted sibling with his own dotted line.

Cat Butt BagHe never met a glass of water he didn’t try to tip over or a blanketed foot he didn’t try to gnaw. He’s the reason I know that a jab to the eye does make you see stars—red ones—and that it hurts when a cat butts your shoulder with the top of his hard, little head when you’re trying to sleep through his bout of the Sudden Terminal Itchies.  He liked to shove things off my desk in the middle of the night, just so I’d wake up and keep him company.

But over this past year, I couldn’t help noticing some changes, though I tried my best.

He couldn’t reliably land onto the counter from the kitchen table anymore, and when he failed, he didn’t bounce up for a do-over. He couldn’t hit the litter box when he was standing in it and it took him a lot of effort to climb in and out—so much so that he rarely bothered. The levels in his food bowl weren’t changing and he didn’t seem to care for wet food or any of his favorite forbidden people treats.

A few days ago, I realized that he weighed less than a full coffee mug and I could feel his bones wherever I touched him. His hind heels were wearing through his white boots and his swagger was worn to a painful hobble.  He couldn’t sit down on my lap, because his hind end didn’t fold anymore and he stopped sleeping on my pillow, because the mattress was too high for him to jump.

He no longer did his nightly opera solos and would disappear from his usual haunts for the whole day. Sometimes two.

I’m not new to the ways of cats. I know what all this means.

Yesterday morning, I called the vet and made the appointment.  I spent the afternoon telling myself I was doing the right thing.

My husband told Janie before I came home from work and she cried and snuggled with Toby until her eyes nearly swelled shut.  “Why?” she cried.  “Why do people have to end?”

I told her that I didn’t know.  But that I was glad we’d given Toby a good home and loved him while he was here, because that was so much better than never knowing him at all.

“Yes, but he’ll be gone.”

“I know.”

“Why can’t we just keep him here until he . . .”

“Because we have a responsibility to take care of him,” I said, not entirely to her.  “He doesn’t know what’s happening to him and we can’t let him suffer just because we don’t want to let him go.  That’s not the right kind of love.”

“Oh, God, Sunny,” she said.

“I know.”

“Don’t tell her.  I mean, let her ask first.”

“If you think it would be better that way.  I won’t tell her until she’s home from camp.”

“Good.”  She teared up again.  “They won’t hurt him?  At the vet?  Don’t you let them hurt him!”

I told her that the vet would take his pain away and he wouldn’t hurt any more.

His pain,” she said. “What about our pain?”

“Time and good memories and hugs,” I said, giving her one.  “They work slowly, but that’s what we have.”

“This sucks, Mom.”

“Yes.  It does.”

Toby HelpAnd it did.

My husband cleaned the pet carrier last night and I put a towel in it early this morning.  After a search that wasn’t helpful to my state of mind, Toby was found and put into the carrier with no fuss, but he let me know the car ride upset him.  It was the first time he’d made a sound in a week and I almost turned to car around—if he could complain, he was okay, right?  That’s the Wesson way, right?

An elderly woman was waiting outside with her barrel-shaped dog.  She smiled as I passed by and said that the weather was beautiful after all the rain we’ve been having.  I said something agreeable and went in.

The receptionist was gentle with both of us and gave me a form to fill out to keep me busy.  Toby rubbed up against the vet when she examined him, friendly, if wary of her probing fingers, and unable to get his hind end to line up right.  He kept going back into his carrier and looking up at me; he was done here and wanted to go home.

So did I.

The vet told me that she could do bloodwork, if I wanted to make sure, but from his general appearance, he had thyroid and kidney problems, which would be chronic.  If she was right, there were treatments, but those would maybe give us a couple of months together, with shots and side effects, ending back where we were.

I signed the papers, marked my preferences for his cremation—I didn’t want his ashes, or a commemorative paw print plaque, I wanted my Toby to be healthy and playful again—and told them I wanted to be present.  I was the one who’d made the decision.  I would be there to see it through.

They took him away for a moment to prepare him with a catheter and I grabbed a handful of tissues and called myself terrible things.

An assistant brought him back, wrapped in a blanket and angrier than I’d ever seen him in his life, but I rubbed his neck until he calmed down, his hard little head pressed against my stomach, like he’d done when he was small.  The vet came back and he tensed up again . . . then relaxed, all at once . . . and was gone.

They told me to take as much time as I needed, and I wondered, not for the first time, if there was some way we could be offered that kindness before the final partings.  And maybe we are, if we’re smart enough to spend it wisely, with spilled water glasses and midnight howls and gnawed toes and fond exasperation.

As I left with the empty carrier and a handful of soggy tissues, the nice elderly lady was just coming in.  She took one look at my face and held the door for me.

Her dog bumped my legs with a cheerful doggy grin.  “Rocket!” she said, pulling him away, but I told her he was helping, too.  “Bless you, honey,” she said.

My husband was home, waiting until the last possible moment to leave for his class so he could give me a hug.  Then I cried for a while, sat down, and wrote this out.

Is it overshare, a 1300+ word, detailed  eulogy for a cat?  Yeah, probably.

But the choices that led up to this post were made for him.  This one is for me.

Time, memories, and hugs are what we’ve got.

And I’m going to miss him.



Howler Kitty in the Night

TobyToby, our cat, is somewhere between fourteen and fifteen years old, and over the past six months, has come to look it.  He’s lost weight, gone frail, and is now mostly a furry bag of overly affectionate bones.

He’s also lost what brains he had—and believe me, the benchmark wasn’t that high.

Old, forgotten habits are new again, in his second kittenhood, and he’s gone reckless with them. He jumps on the counters from the kitchen table, right in front of my MIL, with no regard to his personal safety, her draconian ideas pet etiquette and food safety, or my blood pressure.

He knocks over unattended glasses, just to pat at the puddles.  And we’ve had to extract him from the toilets, lately, a habit he ditched a decade ago, so all the humans in the house are trying to remember to put the lids down,  a habit we thought we could safely ditch once the girls were too big to fall in.

But he’s developed a couple of new habits, too.

The cat who ate everything and anything now turns up his failing nose at food that’s been sitting in his bowl more than three hours and water that isn’t moving.   He slides the ceramic bowl around to be helpful—or to point out that his water is stale, thank you—which drives my MIL, whose ceiling is the floor of our laundry room, crazy.

He’s also decided that he can’t poop in the litterbox unless it’s absolutely clean.  I scoop three times a day, but  work outside the house and do occasionally sleep, so he’s started to find . . .  alternative facilities.  I’m just grateful he’s not as picky about all his bathroom habits, because his kidneys are obviously older, too, poor guy—our semi-weekly rounds of “Find the Torpedo” are revolting enough, but I categorically refuse(pun totally intended)  to play “Rip out the Ammonia-infused Closet Carpet.”

I sympathize with all this.  I do.  Kitty dementia is a real thing, according to the vet, and I’m sure being unable to trust one’s instincts, memories, and once-sharp senses is terribly confusing, especially when one’s cranium is the size of half a tangerine.

So I do my best to keep him comfortable and keep the inconveniences at a minimum for the rest of us.

But when one’s beloved pet, for reasons only known to him—or not—starts howling at 3:45am every blessed morning?

That’s when I get a tad resentful.

“Maaaw?  Maaaw?  MaaaROW?  MaaaROW?”

“Here kitty, kitty,” I mumble, more than willing to accept his dirty feet on my pillow and his Meow Mix Hairball Control Formula breath in my face in exchange for just one more precious hour of sleep.

My husband mutters something and sticks his head under his own pillow.

“Maaaw?  Maaaw?  MaaaROW?  MaaaROW?  MAAAROW?! ROW?!  ROW?!

After about twenty minutes of this, I stumble into the laundry room, check his food (full), check his water (full and clean), check his litter (scoop, just in case), leave the light on so he can find all three, and stumble back to bed.

“Maaaw?  Maaaw?  MaaaROW?  MaaaROW?  MAAAROW?! ROW?!  ROW?!  ROOOOOOOW?!!”

He’s standing on the toilet lid, pawing at it.

I get up, raise the lid, give him a rough head rub because thumping elderly kitties sharply around the ear hole is wrong, whatever the justification, and go back to bed.

“Maaaw?  Maaaw?  MaaaROW?  MaaaROW?  MAAAROW?! ROW?!  ROW?! ROOOOOOOW?!!  ROOOOOOOW?!!!!”

He’s howling in the shower.  He seems to like the echo. Or he wants someone to turn on the taps for him.

It’s now 4:45am.

I give up, get up, banish him from the bathroom, and turn on the shower for my own use.  Even through the water, I can hear him.

“Maaaw?  Maaaw?  MaaaROW?  MaaaROW?  MAAAROW?! ROW?!  ROW?!  ROOOOOOOW?!!!! ROOOOOOOW?!!!!””

There’s certainly nothing wrong with his lungs.

But when I come out, he’s gone.

The house is quiet.

But I’m awake now, or my version of it, so I start coffee,grab my laptop, and start kvetching about this smelly, rude, loud, clingy, senile cat of mine.

About halfway through my rant, a too-light furry ball of bony warmth sits on my bare foot.

And starts to purr.






First Signs of Autumn

Outside my window

It rained all Sunday, Mother Nature paying what she owed us this Summer in a lump sum, rather than the bimonthly installments we would have preferred.

The temperature has dropped over the past few days—Nature giving us a heads-up on the rain delivery—so I put blankets into the dryer  for a few minutes last night and tucked the kids in toasty warm.

Sunny and Jane have been poring over a Halloween Costume catalog and begging for hot chocolate and popcorn and wigs and wings and Monster High heels.

And my mild sore throat, which I assumed was a combination of weather change and too much choir rehearsal yesterday morning, refused to be drowned by gallons of hot tea or soothed by an unscheduled afternoon nap.  Instead, it’s spread its prickly warmth to my upper chest, started aches into my muscles, and produced sneezes that give me chills—also signs of Autumn.

The confused trees outside my window haven’t changed much, yet, but the cat has, pulling his furry, inkblot self into a primly wrapped knot and sneaking under the covers to purr against my tummy as I stay home from work with a box of tissues and a mug of warm soup.

Because I’ve never mastered the art of typing while laying down, I’ve tucked a legal pad and a pen under my pillow—a sign of baseless optimism that I might work a little this afternoon, until the kids get home from school.

See you tomorrow.

What are your signs?

Recipe: Potato Soup, Sanity Optional

Sometimes, the only thing that will do is a big ol’ bowlful of warm carbs and calories.  Potato soup is my favorite way to fill that bowl.

This recipe is pretty simple, though circumstances often add extra ingredients and steps that aren’t in the original.

Yesterday, in fact.

I’ve placed the original in bold—feel free to leave the rest out.

If you can.


—two long carrots or the equivalent in baby carrots
—two ribs of celery
—six medium all-purpose russet potatoes or the equivalent in whatever size tubers you have handy
—a couple cans or containers of chicken broth, or veggie broth if you prefer (either way, don’t bother with the good stuff)
—a cat with separation anxiety

—one or two onions
—two bored children

—6 Tablespoons butter/margarine
—6 Tablespoons flour, combined with:
—1 teaspoon salt
—½ teaspoon pepper
—garlic powder to taste

—1 ½ cups of milk (I use 1%, because that’s what we have)
—a cell phone, sans headset, with your parents on the line

—shredded cheese (optional)
—cooked, crumbled bacon (optional)

Chop the carrots up small, because they’re only a gesture to nutrition anyway, and toss ’em in the pot before marauding children can steal them all off the cutting board.   De-thread the celery—is there a real cooking term for that?—and do likewise, though there’s no rush because the kids hate celery.    Drown ’em with the chicken broth—the veggies, not the kids—because you have several potatoes to get through and you don’t want the first two to go purple on your cutting board while you deal with the rest.  One or two at a time, peel all the vitamins off the potatoes, chop them into bite-sized pieces, and add them to the swimming party.  If it looks crowded, add a little water to cover, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer.

Meanwhile, chop the onion into small pieces and call your parents because it’s been about two weeks since you’ve talked to Dad and you keep missing Mom.   Talk for a couple of minutes about hot dog calamari and why grandparents should really be the ones to introduce children to the real deal while parents record the event for engagement parties and blogs.  Step on the cat’s tail.

Check the veggies after ten minutes—the potatoes are done when they’re soft enough to squish between your fingers, if you were dumb enough to try that with a hot piece of potato, which you won’t be because I am a walking cautionary tale with two burnt fingers.   Agree to make Hot Dog calamari for the children because you feel guilty for saying that Bad Word that you aren’t sure if they heard.

Talk to Dad about why the scenes he likes in your WIP he’s reading were edited out in the new draft.  Tell your children to stop throwing the ball in the kitchen, please,  and if they want to help, they can stand over there and assemble their own dinner.  Smile as they evaporate and discuss your parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, which is coming up way too soon.

Put your colander over a saucepan, because you’ll need the cooking liquid later, and drain the veggies.   Put the empty pot back on the burner and toss in the butter or margarine  to melt it, which it will do quickly, so be ready with the onion, which you will saute until it goes translucent.  Alternate stirring with jamming spaghetti into pieces of hotdog, while telling your children again not to play catch in the kitchen and remind them in a tone you will later wish you hadn’t used in your parents hearing that you are on the phone. 

Apologize to your parents, pick up the bowl with the flour, salt, pepper, and garlic and step on the cat again.  Sweep the spilled flour mixture off the counter and dump it in the potStir until you’ve make an oniony roux and slowly add the milk , stirring constantly until it makes a lovely sauce.  End your phone call because you need both hands now.  Fold in the cooked veggies, but don’t worry about being careful, since the potatoes are supposed to disintegrate.  Much like your sanity.

Add a little of the reserved liquid to the pot to until the soup is the consistency you want and turn the heat as low as it goes.  Carry the half-full saucepan to the sink and trip over the cat, drenching yourself in warm chicken broth and  hollering at him to get the hell out from under your feet, as he leaps away and crashes into the cabinet.  Look up to see your younger child staring at you in disbelief and try to explain that you hadn’t kicked the kitty, honey, you just tripped.

Decide to leave out the bacon because in your current spiral, a house fire or third degree burns seem inevitable.  Fill a small bowl with shredded cheese and use a few shreds to bribe the cat into forgiving you before he does something unspeakable somewhere unthinkable.

Clean up the kitchen as the now subdued children set the table, more or less.

Serve the soup, and psuedocalamari, with potato rolls and fresh carrot sticks.

Enjoy a bowl of well-earned comfort food, knowing full well that if you hadn’t decided to make it, you wouldn’t need it so much.

But it’s still worth it.

Writing or Sleep . . .

I was futzing around with an essential, yet anticlimactic, bit in my WIP Sunday night, picking at it like a scab instead of writing past it because I didn’t actually want to write but wouldn’t admit it.  I decided to pack it in about ten-thirty, as I get up at 5:30 on weekdays . . . so I can write before work.

As usually happens when I take my sticky fingers off the controls, a pacing solution sprang to mind, and I scribbled the basics down as fast as I could so I wouldn’t forget it.  It was about eleven when I called it quits—the imagination was willing, but the brain was more than half asleep and the fingers had gone dyslexic.

I snagged the latest Mercedes Lackey on my way to brush my teeth and decided to finish the chapter in bed. And then another one.  Which led into a third and so on.   I turned out the light about half past midnight, knowing I was an idiot and still wanting to finish up.  Please, God, let me write cracktastic fiction someday!

At one o’clock, I was awakened to the dulcet tones of our cat upchucking in the dark.   Usually, this sends a direct signal to my bladder, but all was well.  So I rolled over with the relief of someone who didn’t have to tiptoe through a minefield in the dark.

Ten minutes later, there was a loud thump and wail from our toddler’s room—because in this house, children can’t fall out of bed before the cat throws up.  It just isn’t done.

So I gingerly went down the hall and found our three-year-old swaddled in her sheet and halfway under the bed.  I extracted her, unwound her, and tucked her back in.  She was asleep five seconds later, but I crawled in with her and stayed for a while in case she showed immediate signs of a brain hematoma from bouncing off the storybooks she’d refused to put away before bed. 

I don’t know what use I would have been, since I did a long blink and it was suddenly two-thirty, but parental anxiety knows no logic.

I got up, went to the bathroom on general principles, and climbed into my side of the bed, belatedly grateful I hadn’t encountered the cat’s bout of indigestion.  I moved slightly—and something wet touched my leg.   

Needless to say, I woke my husband, who is my hero for jumping up, turning on the lights, and hand checking the surface of the mattress while I stood there and swayed from brain-fried exhaustion.  Even if it turned out to be a fig ment of my imagination.

So I got about four hours sleep in bits and pieces, which means I was in no condition to write anything coherent Monday morning and was a diet Pepsi-and-chocolate fueled Dead Mommy Walking at my day job—no exaggeration. 

But I survived, dragged myself home, and vowed to go to bed at a decent hour—say, right after the kids dropped off.  But first, I was going to just insert one thing into my chapter, just so I wouldn’t forget. . .

I brushed my teeth at eleven and got to bed . . . sometime after.

Not sure where I’m going with this, probably because it’s about 6am and I’m having trouble finding all the keys through the thick fog and hitting them in the right order.

Wait.  Got it.  Sleep:  very important for a writer.  Especially a writer of a certain age with a family and a cat and a day job.

I keep feeling the press of time, keep trying to get the words down so I can get the novel done so I can send it off so I can get more words down.  But if I don’t take a break when my body is clearly going to take one with or without me, I’ll just be spinning my wheels, right?

  And spending a lot of time revising and editing stuff that seemed brilliant  to my three functioning brain cells.

So tonight,* I vow to brush my teeth early and go to bed.  Without any writing implements or reading materials—mine or someone elses.  It’s not a retreat, it’s a regroup.

Hard to type with all this yawning going on, anyway.


*If I didn’t have a workshop this afternoon, I’d call in dead.  But I do, and I’m not, so I won’t.  Damn sense of responsibility . .  .