Reading with Friends

My friend Lizz asked me to look in on her two cats and spend some time with them while she was away at a family reunion and I quickly agreed to do it.  The cats, Oliver and Mackenzie, are really quite charming, and I though it might cheer me up a little after losing Nadja.  Also, Lizz has this great little reading nook in her apartment and I was looking forward to getting caught up on some important reading.  Allen is finalizing the draft for his second manuscript to be sent to his editor next week and I was anxious to read it over once in it’s entirety before then.  Nadja’s death hit Allen pretty hard too, so much so that he wrote her into the new book.  At one point during my time at Lizz’ place, I skipped ahead in the manuscript to the page where this passage begins.  I read over it several times as the cats stirred in another room.

The passage is below.  It starts off mentioning Ruah, a malamute Allen and his ex-wife had who died years ago.

– There was no ceremony.  Debbie had gone into the house. She couldn’t bear to see.  I fit Ruah into the grave looking north and placed my straw hat over his eyes.  It was hot.  The dirt was clotted.  I broke the clots into a finer ground with a hoe.  I carefully shoveled dirt around his face.  The effect was as if Ruah were diving headfirst into another world as his head and then his body was submerged.  I stacked rocks from the creek on top.  Unexpectedly, I was constructing a habitat for black widow spiders that hid in the dark creases between the large rocks. This was different than when I buried my grandmother.  I was in the room when she died, standing in the back behind my mother’s brother.  I saw the heart monitor go flat.  I remember no sounds, no emotions.  I drove home.  That night I decided I would dig the grave.  I persuaded my mother.  I dug the grave.  I buried her. My dog Ruah’s death was more painful than my grandmother’s departure.

The pain around Ruah’s death seemed proportional. He was the same size as a man.  On his hind legs, he stood over six feet tall and weighed a hundred and twenty pounds.  But now years later in Buffalo, a seven pound cat named Nadja has died. She was sixteen. We lived together for a brief time. She was so delicate and lovely. In my lap she was hardly there, a heavier part of the blanket spread across my thighs. But her death was large enough to swallow me whole. It didn’t feel like my thigh bone was cut out when she died. It felt like my lungs were beating against my rib cage trying to fly away after her. This is a familiar feeling for me. I want to reach across that space that divides us and hold her one more time not unlike the dead wanting to reach across that same space and touch me. I’m not disturbed by this. It isn’t even about clinging to memories. What Marc Auge so gently described as oblivion, the other side of remembering, with his lovely metaphor of the seashore, must’ve grown into a storm at some point in my life. I remember very little. Instead I feel like I’m easing myself into those waters. Borges tells a story about a man who remembers everything. Each detail pricks him. Memory is torture for him. There’s no room for anything else. I remember a world more like the floral wallpaper in my grandmother’s house. It’s fading and I can see another layer behind it. I remember the swirl in the wood grain of my ax handle and Nadja fetching her blue ball. These memories don’t feel like briars in my hand. In the summer, I would dive through the warm surface water to the muddy bottom of the Big Lake and lay in the cold until I had to come up for air. This is what remembering feels like.

Ailurophile

Ailurophile – cat person.

I’m really not a cat person, I’m more like a Nadja person.

I picked up Nadja’s ashes from the vet on Tuesday.  I didn’t go alone.  I was afraid it would be too difficult.  Nadja’s passing was something my logical self was almost prepared for, but once she was gone, my heart received a jolt that took me utterly by surprise.  I’m fortunate because I have friends around me who understand.

One friend, Lisa, suggested a formal gathering to honor her memory, and she helped me put it together on Wednesday night.  I don’t think I would have thought of it myself, but it was perfect.  This gesture of friendship and so many like it,  have been instrumental in helping me deal with the loss.  We invited a small group of people who knew Nadja and knew how much she meant to me.  Some had cared for her when I traveled.  I wish some Omaha and Kansas City people could have been here too.  We shared stories and Lisa (a singer and musician) sang two songs and played guitar.  We drank champagne and toasted a sweet little cat life and then we went out on the roof.  Nadja’s favorite place in the world was the roof and I can’t tell you how happy I am that her last 2 years of life were very possibly her most joyful since we made this cat heaven of an apartment our new home.  We lit candles and I spread her ashes.  We let the candles burn through the night out on the roof where Nadja loved to play.

What are they doing in heaven today?
I don’t know boy
But it’s my biz to say it and sing about it

Chorus:
What are they doing in heaven today,
Where sin and sorrow are all done away?
Peace abounds like a river, they say.
What are they doing there now?

I’m thinking of friends whom I used to know,
Who lived and suffered in this world below
But they’ve gone off to heaven, but I want to know
What are they doing there now?

Oh, what are they doing in heaven today,
Where sin and sorrow are all done away?
Peace abounds like a river, they say.
But what are they doing there now?

There’s some whose hearts were burdened with care
They paid for their moment to fighting and tears
But they clung to the cross with trembling and fear
But what are they doing there now?

(chorus)

And there’s some whose bodies were full of disease
Physicians and doctors couldn’t give them much ease
But they suffered ’til death brought a final release
But what are they doing there now?

(chorus)

There’s some who were poor and often despised
They looked up to heaven with tear-blinded eyes
While people were heedless and deaf to their cries
But what are they doing there now?