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Thursday, September 19, 2013
Unquietly Into That Good Night
unquietly into the good night
We don’t know precisely when our current cat, Lily, was born. We acquired the beautiful tortoise-shell—acquisition a concept that bothers me, since we all know animals ultimately own their human counterparts—from the SPCA in Los Angeles on April 2, 2001, after she had been living for many years with an elderly cat-lover who, with over 20 cats, had been forced to give them up. They estimated that Lily may have been four years of age or older.
About three years ago, our now very fat and quite elderly animal began to lose weight quite rapidly. Although we loved the new, sleeker feline she had now become, we also realized through her suddenly desperate need for water and her increased activity in the cat litter, that she was not well. Checking on line and from other sources, we easily determined that our poor loved one was probably suffering from feline wasting, a disease that ends in death. At almost the same moment our previously quite quiet pet begin—as the internet descriptions of the disease had warned us might happen—to start crying out in what seemed like great pain, particularly just after eating. Since she had become quite thin, we began to feed her much more often, refilling her wet food every few hours, and keeping bowls of dry food at her disposal. Every night, at 1:30 or 2:00 a.m., I wake up to feed her what we describe as “pouch food,” Pet Pride servings of wet chicken, turkey, beef, and numerous other choices of meat, food Lily loves and regularly eats without prejudice. With other canned foods it is an issue of willy-nilly acceptance or dismissal, but the pouch food always pleases her.
The nightly and, particularly, the after-dinner cries accelerated, particularly when our poor cat began to go deaf. If we immediately ran to pet her, she would suddenly stop, but otherwise, she was determined to alert the neighborhood to her dilemmas, as well as keeping us up for hours each night, even though we invited her into our bed, where she might purr for several minutes, before she would soon return to the floor where she continued to issue her intense cries.
When this pattern of eating and crying first began, Howard and I both felt that she probably didn’t have long to live. But first one, then two and three years went by. Lily gained a few more pounds and seemed to be an active cat, often taking advantage of the courtyard and pool area which our apartment faced. She was still able (as she is even today) to scale the balcony walls and go for long hours in the wilds of the numerous plants surrounding our apartment. But her cries have never ceased, if nothing else, increasing. Like several older men in our building—who we ourselves are becoming as well—who cough, sneeze, and cry out in breathless suffering throughout the night, our now elderly cat cries out in what sounds like pain, but which may be just from the vicissitudes of an upset stomach or aching muscle pains. Occasionally, even my arthritic knees force me to moan. And Howard, suffering nightmares, more and more often cries out in the night until I reassure him he is safely in bed.
Perhaps that is just one of the conditions of old age. As I have observed, visiting my elderly mother in an assisted nursing home, older people, unable to hear one another, speak, often unpleasantly about each other in quite loud voices, seemingly oblivious of the implications of their booming proclamations. As people grow older, they not only grow more cantankerous, but express those feelings at the top of their voices.
But I might never have imagined that even our elderly appliances might follow in the same pattern. Today, while standing in the kitchen, I heard a loud blurt of noise, which, at first, I supposed might be coming from our in-house fire alarm, but when it suddenly stopped, I dismissed it. Howard, a few hours later, heard the same sound, presuming it was the neighbor’s disposal or a plumber applying a metal snake through their drains. But when it continued, he recognized the source as being our very elderly refrigerator, crying out, clearly, that it was near the end of its life.
When I returned home, the vast, yellowing and long-stained beast begin groaning at regular intervals like a distressed puppy or—somewhat like our complaining cat—screaming out, evidently, in pain in its last gasps. For much of the afternoon it temporarily calmed, as if, like the cat, in was simply taking a nap; but then it began again, pleading in its whining cries for some sort of respite. I tried to pet it, but, unlike Lily, it did not purr, but simply increased its distressful pleas.
Resentfully, Howard visited, this afternoon, the local Best Buy to choose another large cooling device in its place. Even as I write this, our loyal elderly refrigerator has just cried out twice, a bit like the shrill screams of the “replicated” humans of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, calling out in recognition of a “real” human survivor. The awakening cat, having dined on Fancy Feast chicken and gravy screamed out loudly in obvious stomach distress. I sigh out loud in distress.
Upon finishing this piece, our noisy refrigerator suddenly ceased its cries, saying nothing through the late afternoon. I went swimming, and came back to the slight, steady purr of its refrigeration system. My six to seven laps each day help to keep my muscles flaccid and floppy, but my elderly neighbors appreciate my efforts and compliment me for my spectacularly splashing on my daily treks across the pool. Lily, flopped out on our bedroom desk, had tossed away all her favorite stuffed animals, as if to declare “I am the one who truly belongs here!”
Howard returned, reporting he’d found a stainless steel replacement to our loyal refrigerator at a low sale price. I had, this evening, to toss out one of our favorite Polo shirts, since holes had now suddenly appeared across its shoulder. I’d worn it for so many years that I could only kiss it good-bye. It didn’t make a sound as I slipped it into the deep garbage bin.
Our refrigerator howled all night. The cat mewled. The old man upstairs coughed, sneezed, and groaned endlessly. None of them were willing to go quiet into that good night. Nor I. I couldn’t sleep.