Tuesday, May 11, 2010

And Now, A Proper Eulogy

In January 1999, I was working at a radio station in Duluth, MN, and another announcer from across the hall (we had a few stations in that building) walked into the studio and asked if I was looking for a kitten. He told me about a listener who had called in because they found a box in the Duluth sky walk that had several long-haired black kittens in it, and the person who found the kittens was hoping that some of our other listeners would help find homes for the abandoned babies.

I had been thinking of adopting a kitten, and asked where I could see them--turns out that the guy who found them was restoring a tugboat on the Superior, WI side of the harbor, and he was keeping the kittens there on the boat.

Looking back, it seems entirely fitting that I first met that little fluff on a boat. He spent his whole life in pursuit of water. And adventure.

When I arrived at the tug, the sight was entirely too precious: Lightning fast kittens, all black with long hair, chasing each other around the deck. My toddler girls squealed in absolute delight. We met all of the siblings and were accepted by one, who consented to ride home with us in our car. We lived by his kind permission from that day forward.

Friends of mine have strong memories of my girls running around our apartment, chasing that little kitten, who barely filled an entire adult palm on the day we brought him home. He liked to hide in the box spring of my bed when he'd had enough of their antics, and it took a long, long time in his life before he stopped hiding when he got too much attention. Eventually, though, he tolerated us, and not only would he come out for the food, but he'd stay for the company, too. At heart, I guess he was always a bit of a wild animal--the domestication crap was not really his thing. Not really. He did play a neat little game of fetch for a short time in his youth, in which if you threw the ring that you'd peeled from a gallon of milk, he would catch it in his hands, put it in his mouth and walk it over to you. It was cool to watch.

Over the course of the years we had him, Bailey liked to ditch the family life every once in a while when the opportunity presented itself and head out on the open road. Of course, in our case, the "open road" was just the neighborhood around where our house was. He'd slip out when some kid left a door ajar, be gone for three days while we searched the neighborhood and hung up signs, then he would show up very early in the morning on the 4th day, not caring that my daughter had been beside herself the entire time (which meant that by default, so was I). Every time he took off, I spent the duration fearing the worst--that he'd been hit by a car, or killed by a bear, gotten into poison, or, even worse, that someone found him and decided to keep him.

Ultimately, it was my daughter's heartbreak that I could not bear. They had grown close, and he became her cat, as much as he was anybody's cat. Maddi was allowed special access to Bailey that none of the rest of us enjoyed--He declared her room was also his room, and of all of us, she was really the only one allowed to pick him up and hold him for any significant amount of time. He grudgingly accepted hugs from her that he would have killed to avoid from the rest of us. Every time he returned from a 3-day adventure, I would scoop him up, fresh from his pre-dawn arrival, scold him for making us worry, then immediately deposit him in Maddi's bed so that she would wake up to the sight of him, assured that he was OK. Probably the only times he allowed me to carry him for more than 30 seconds is when he saw that we were going to Maddi's room.

While Bailey's adventures in the great outdoors caused us the most grief, there was one indoor adventure that he had that also scared us, and that was when he was in the hospital for three days with an IV pumping fluids in one end and a catheter taking them out the other, all with a steady flow of antibiotics and tranquilizers. I visited him one time there, and due to the drugs he couldn't muster anything beyond a stare, but the look said it all--"This sucks." I agreed. That hospital visit cost more than a house payment. Actually, I think it was two house payments at that time. But he was Bailey--my daughter's one true love, and because of that, we did what we had to do to keep him alive, so that he could worry us to death for another six years after that.

He had a disregard of most things, but his attitude was really too charming to be insulting. When he looked at you as if you were an idiot and he couldn't believe he got stuck here in this stupid house with these stupid people and that stupid dog and that stupid other cat, you laughed at his curmudgeonly ways. He was the one for whom it was written that "Dogs have owners, Cats have staff." Completely and unapologetically spoiled. If you were near a sink, kitchen or bath, he insisted that you turn the water on to an appropriate trickle so he could drink it--water bowls were for lower creatures like dogs, I guess--Bailey only drank from water that was moving. After his hospitalization, he required special food for the rest of his life, but he'd still hang out in the kitchen and climb your leg if you were de-boning the Thanksgiving turkey, the Easter ham, or even just the Sunday chicken. I suppose those things more closely resembled what he thought he should be eating--meat, not prescription kibble. I did not disagree--to see him catch his "prey" was quite an amazing thing--those hands! Just like with the milk ring game, he used his little paws to reach out and catch things, or take them from you. The only living thing I've ever seen that displayed that much entitlement to food I was holding in my hand was a seagull on Park Point in Duluth. Bailey and a seagull--two creatures who have attempted to take a cheeseburger right out of my hand as I raised it to my mouth to take a bite.
As I previously mentioned...he was a jerk. His insistence of independence and love of adventure broke our hearts, time and again. All we wanted to do was take care of him and make sure he was always safe. All he wanted to do was have fun, eat whatever the hell he wanted, go only where he wanted to go, and not have to deal with any stupid crap.

But...don't we all want that?

I suppose that is the hardest thing about all of this. You had to admire the guy. That great, free spirit, confined for our convenience--if he had ever complied with our wishes, he would not have been nearly as interesting. It is why I question if I even had the right to end that--I am all but certain that he would have preferred to battle with death on his own terms. If he could speak, I'm sure he would have told me to take him back up to the Congdon neighborhood in Duluth and let him go, down by the creek. He'd take his chances, like he had so many times before. Would our hearts be broken any less?


  1. beautiful..
    and now I'm crying at my desk.

  2. I don't know why I always thought Jack was the black one.....
    Our thoughts are with you all.


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