May 12th, 2016

To A Cat — Lili: Feb 29, 2000 – May 11, 2016

“Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” –Anatole France


Like my own life, I considered that my Bengal cat Liliuokalani would live a really long, long time. Like forever.

Yesterday, after a quick decline (her heart trouble bloomed in about a month) the vet, a hyper gentle, sensitive soul, administered ‘the shot’ and I held Lili in my arms while all the force of her feline instincts rallied to capture: One. More. Breath. Her frame twisting and turning, fighting against the void — her mouth yawned wide, her eyes dilated into black full moons — as she force-rode the border between living and no-thing. And then completed.

All of that moment is seared into my memory screen today. Hard to shake. It’s one of the bookends between our time together. The joy and sweetness of the very first day I met her and the bitterness of the ‘closure.’

In Portland two years ago I watched my stepmom go through similar contortions the day before she died — not as feral, but her body’s elongating and recoiling in the bed — a leg suddenly jutting skyward like a showgirl’s and then slowly curling downward/inwards towards the comfort of a fetal position. My aunt leaned over to me in the hospital room and said, “Well, she always was limber. Used to be a dancer you know.”

When they left me alone with Lili’s body I stood above her and marveled at the mystery. The eerie kind of invasion that overtakes the mind when confronted by life’s literal demarcations: One minute prior there was an animated beast cuddled in my arms — now — just this shell thing. A beautiful thing, but not Lili. A beautiful Bengal cat rug. Gurdjieff remarked once that: “Time is breath.” This must be true.

What’s timelessness about? I’m curious about this.

Even at home, an hour or so before taking her to the vet, Lili came shuffling out from the bedroom after she heard the distinct sound of a can of tuna being opened in the kitchen. Despite the fact that she’d no appetite. And then later in the living room, beneath a chair, she made a small lunge towards a sparrow that had landed on the outside deck. Bird was gone. But her attention wasn’t. She shifted again, fascinated now with a spider that was moving up the sliding glass door’s edge. Could she reach it to swat it? No awareness that in an hour she’d be lugged over to the vet and no longer be alive.

I want that. Not an unconsciousness towards the reality of my death, but a vibrant curiosity towards the last rattle that rides the demarcation. In her song Sweet Bird Joni Mitchell sings:

Out on some borderline/
Some mark of in-between/
I lay down golden in time/
And woke up vanishing.

Seems we’re always on this line, but we ignore its patient persistence to finally blur and then cut. We fill up the space and the time about our death with ideas, beliefs, theories, something some Buddhist told us, or maybe grandma’s ideas about Jesus and family reunions in heaven.


Sixteen years ago, in Seattle, my boyfriend Alex came into my office, excited and flashing the Seattle Times’ classifieds in front of me. “Look! Why don’t we get one of these Bengal cats? There are some for sale in Spokane. Have you seen pictures of them?” Up came a page on the Internet and I was spellbound. So gorgeous and wild. I said ‘yes.’ We called the woman, a breeder in Spokane, and then two weeks later, around 8PM, she drove to our home and brought in a tiny kitten that seemed to be the size of a Dixie cup.

I was shocked at Lili’s dynamic presence. So petite, but my god, the force of her courage was astounding. We’d a Siamese cat with us at the time, quite large, and he’d hiss and swat at Lili — the new rival — and she’d maneuver around him, stand her ground, and then get on with whatever she was exploring. It felt like she knew —- give it a month or so —- and they’d be best buds. And sure enough, she was right.

Lili rode through my life, from Seattle to Vashon, from Alex to other boyfriends (and other boyfriends) — and despite the rising and setting tides of work and love, she was my familiar. I now understand what that term means. Some part of the animal’s soul gets entwined with some part of the human’s animal soul and there are secret codes and cues that move back and forth between the two. No wonder it’s associated with witchcraft.

I remember ten years ago, coming down off of a horrid run of antidepressants a doctor should never have put me on and me, idiotically, deciding to stop them suddenly without titrating myself down the dosage ladder. I had to black curtain my bedroom and spent five days going through a freakish electrical recalibration of my brain. And Lili never left my side, she wouldn’t eat and if she stepped out to her litter box she was back at my bedside in a flash. The message simply being: “I’m here. You’ll make it.”

The vet asked me yesterday if I wanted to leave her with their office for cremation and I looked at her as if she were insane. Did I want a clay impression taken of her paw, for memory’s sake? “No thanks,” I said, “I know I’ll find dozens of her fallen whiskers scattered about when I finally decide to clean the house. Those will do.”

When the sun began to set yesterday I buried Lili in my backyard. If you’ve never buried something or someone you love, well it’s unlike anything you’ll ever experience. I understand the necessity of cremation but wow — digging a hole! The effort to penetrate the earth, the smell the earth throws back, feels like jacking into a million-year-old ceremony that’s part and parcel the planet’s first stirrings. With bird calls going off all around me and the wind’s constant motion as a reminder of movement amidst stillness — I was done; the hole was finally big enough.


Placing her body into the ground and watching as the dirt, the Great Mother’s alchemic blanket, took her back to her chthonic realm — well, it was miraculous. I flashed on the cave paintings of Lascaux. And the gigantic mystery of all these various species that comprise our ‘life’ here together on the planet. I also flashed on someone lugging a shovel out of a shed someday and asking: “Where is the Woodruff burial spot again?”

I hope what’s golden, that quality that Joni mentions in her song, remains active once I’m out of this particular shell. But who the fuck knows? At the end of Sweet Bird Mitchell lays it down flatly — no compensatory strokes:

Give me some time/
I feel like I’m losing mine/
Out here on this horizon line/
With the earth spinning and the sky forever rushing/
No one knows/
They can never get that close/
Guesses at most/
Guesses based on what each set of time and change is touching.



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