I just finished burying my belovéd cat Kanji beneath one of the great eucalyptus trees in the garden at Edgemont Place. I had to do this once before with the Murdoch family cat, Frodo, in 1997, after I moved him in with my first wife and our four cats Kalvin, Anastasia, Hobbes, and Atari on Sutter Street. Frodo was over 16 years old, a canny outdoors cat with a penchant for rubbing so vigorously on the edge of roofs that he’d almost fall off. He had never been away from the fiefdom on Amiford, but the people who were leasing the house while my parents were in Canada were “allergic to cats” and didn’t want him around. It was only a couple of months later that he quit eating — even hand-shredded warm chicken — and I knew it was time for him to go.
When I took Frodo to a highly impersonal 24 hour clinic to figure out what was wrong with him, the diagnosis was swift and sure: kidney failure. He wouldn’t miraculously heal and start eating and beating the shit out of the younger cats when they wouldn’t leave him alone like he was doing last week. It was clear that it was time, and when I looked into his eyes when I put him down, he was so much wiser and greater than I could ever be; he thanked me with a wink as he slipped over the edge and was no longer there in feline form.
I had no cat carrier at that time, so I took Frodo to the clinic in a paper ream box with a lid. As I took his body home in the same box, driving west on the I8, the clouds poured sunshine through a halo-like hole in the sky over the ocean, and I had to pull over to let the tears course down my face and to scream how unfair it is that I am left behind with all of this grief and a hole in my heart. I went home, got a shovel out of the shed, and drove to Monaco Street near the Amiford residence. I hiked up the drainage ditch I used to play in and around as a child, struck off into the depths of the old acacia bushes, and found a spot under a tree that I thought Frodo would like. And I buried his body there, in the wilderness behind the house where he would disappear for hours and sometimes days, hunting, napping, sunning, and doing whatever it is cats do when they go adventuring. Performing this ceremony made me whole over time: I knew I had done the right thing and done it with power and grace. It is not an easy thing to do.
It doesn’t get any easier the second time around.
The week before this one, on Thursday, I woke up with Kanji curled up between my legs where I had fallen asleep on the couch. What puts this into perspective is that Kanji does not like to come inside the house. She’s always been like this; I am certain her previous owners didn’t allow her inside, and it was hilarious to watch her at Saratoga — where I inherited her — with an open door and a bowl of wet fud just inside enticing her to cross that threshold. When I moved and took her to Panorama, she stayed in my room for two weeks straight, terrified and freaking out that I had moved her from where she had always been. After she ventured outside, she found the spacious basement and spent her time sleeping in the rafters, only emerging to demand fresh kibble and occasionally sprint halfway up a tree when chased by the native cats Brother, Jedi, and Vader. She would continue to sleep at the foot of the bed every so often; a pleasant morning surprise keeping my feet warm and blinking her big blue eyes at me as I would be sleepily slapping the nightstand for the snooze button. At Edgemont, Kanji quickly took up residence under the house a
gain when I let her outside and removed an anti-rodent mesh from the sub-basement. Over time, she found many hidey-holes, but spent most of her time curled up snoozing in the beat-up garage, sometimes on top of my carpeted DJ coffins or speakers. She did get used to coming in the house in order to feed and water, though, so I got used to her occasionally showing up inside, although she much preferred to enter via the window rather than crossing a doorjamb. So it was unusual to have Kanji curled up next to me, rubbing blood and pus all over my comforter from her ruined nose and ear because she just couldn’t quit being a kitten and, well, she wanted to communicate with me that she needed me.
I spent the last week with Kanji as an indoor cat. She had gotten skinny — skin and bones, really, so I plied her with wet fud and booted Brother out of the house so she could eat in peace. Lots of time was devoted to scratching her in all the right places, and gently, so when she would encourage me to rip the scabs off of her nose and ear to drain the grisly shit that was going on underneath, my fingers could dance around it. She peed on everything and I didn’t give a fuck; that Thursday she came in the house, I promised her that I would take care of this once and for all, and so we hung out hard-core: nerding it up while I solved Halo: Reach on Legendary mode with her next to me for good luck; watching Netflix Kung Fu movies until 4 in the morning on school nights; hand-feeding her American cheese slices and black forest ham on her Mexican blanket on the couch and hearing her little “om nom nom” noises; waking up in the middle of the night as she decided that she wanted to sleep closer to me, so she would carefully crawl on to my chest or between my calves and pretend like she had always been there. Kanji was fiercely independent, but she knew better than I what time it was.
I took Kanji to Heather at Cabrillo Vet four or five months ago to find out what was wrong with the persistent scabs on her ear and nose. Heather and her whole staff, by the way, are the greatest lovers of animals on the planet. Referring to me as “Dad”, Heather told me several months ago that this was fast-moving, untreatable skin cancer, and as tears welled up in my eyes, she informed me that Kanji had 1-6 months to live. Today I took Kanji back to Cabrillo and Heather to put her down. Over the last week, I would come home from work at GreenHouse, drop my heavy backpack of tech, and go looking for her. I was worried that Kanji would try some disappearing bullshit on me. At first, I would find her laid out on the couch somewhere, but as this last week went by, I would have minor panic attacks and search the yard fruitlessly, thinking that Kanji either couldn’t get back in the window or that she was trying some dumb “I’m just going to disappear” ploy. She was always inside the house, but these last three days, she was so embarrassed with her incontinence and appearance, she found a secret spot in my back closet where she would hide until I coaxed her out of it and encouraged her back to the couch. Usually, this involved playing Lady Gaga tunes and putting fresh food in her bowl; she loves teh Gaga while she delicately ate while trying not to bang her scabby nose into the kibble.
So the second vet visit ever was to put her out of this misery. I am comforted that I spent good time with Kanji and have lots of pictures and even a little bit of video (where she got excited and tore the crap out of the back of my hand). Heather and Cabrillo are very efficient; I signed some paperwork and there was no wait. We went right back to the exam room, and they gave me a scant two minutes to let Kanji out of the carrier and let her freak out and run around a little. As I put her back on the table for the procedure, I got one good look in her big baby blue eyes, and saw them change from fear to resignation to trust. I trust you. I. Trust. You. And that is how Kanji went forth into the great beyond.
I’m an Eagle Scout; I pride myself on being prepared and being good in the “clutch” situation. As I drove home with Kanji’s still form in the cat carrier, I couldn’t help but look at her as if she was just sleeping. When I got home, I didn’t like her body in the carrier, so I carefully pulled her out and laid her on her circular cat-tower-throne that she liked when she was sunning and sleeping. She looked like she always did, sans an infrequent mini-bath and look around while squinting and licking her chops before resuming her nap. I found my shovel under the stairs and dug a deep hole next to two of the massive eucalyptus trees here at Edgemont place. Curling her up in that hole, and arranging her limbs to cover her eyes and give her the semblance of a nap reminded me of doing the same thing with Frodo. And that’s when I knew that it doesn’t get any easier the second time around.
As I updated Kanji’s Catbook profile to provide how long she had been loved, I realized that I have known her since 2008. It is 2010; that is two years. But when you love unconditionally — something I have a problem doing with humans, but rarely with animals — that is a lifetime. I have received many beautiful expressions of sorrow and understanding from my friends and family, and I appreciate them all; however, none of them goes as far as a simple meow from Brother: “Are you OK? I love you. BTW where’s Kanji? Can I have her fud?”
Kanji is physically gone, like so many other cherished pets and loved ones, but that does not relinquish the responsibility of playing it forward: lives are spent setting examples, and I remind myself constantly that this is why they were here in the first place: to move and inspire me now. Even after I have laid one of mine to rest in the cool earth. Kanji is not even a girl; Heather took one look at her and laughed, stating “that’s a boy-kitten, Dad.” Having known this for over four months, I still could not quit referring to her as a girl; Kanji didn’t care about the context — only the tone of voice and the love contained within and that there was Fancy Feest involved if he/she acted cute enough. This is unconditional love, and I can haz it with cats; human beings, though, I am not so sure about. Kanji was like that: suspicious of “hoomins” — this is, perhaps, one lesson that is worth remembering; and, that once alleviated, love is all I have to give to you.