Good Evening, Folks.
For those of you - like me - who are fans of Homer The Blind Wonder Cat and his book, Homer's Odyssey, I am posting news about his sister, Vashti.
Vashti is currently hospitalized at the vet's office, fighting chronic renal failure. Her * Homer's owner, Gwen Cooper, reports via her blog that Vashti has been not been well for some time, now, but she went into the vet a few days ago and is being cared for there. Gwen reports the vets and staff are taking very good care of her, and are very kind and gentle in their care.
There is no word on Vashti's prognosis right now. She as shown some improvement over the weekend. Gwen and her family are hopeful that she will continue to improve.
Gwen's/Homer's homepage can be found at: http://www.gwencooper.com/
Her Blog is at: http://www.gwencooper.com/blog.php
With Gwen's kind permission, here is her blog post about Vashti from yesterday, and what a wonderful kitty she is.
Keeping our fingers and paws crossed for you, Vashti!
Jane and The Girls.
A Canticle for Vashowitz, Part 2
Yesterday morning, I left Vashti at the veterinary hospital where she will spend the next several days receiving intensive treatment for her kidneys, which are failing. There’s a range of scenarios for her eventual prognosis, some very positive and others, obviously, far less so. We should know more in a couple of days.
I brought her in yesterday at around 10:00am, and spent the rest of the day—until I eventually passed out at around midnight—well…I spent it drunk. I am not proud of this. The only other time I can remember having used alcohol as a coping mechanism was the night of September 11th. Ah, well…there are always good reasons to do what you know you shouldn’t.
Vashti has been declining for several weeks. I’ve avoided writing about her, or about any of the cats, not wanting to talk about her illness until we knew more, but also feeling that it would be dishonest, somehow, to write about the cats as if everybody were fine. But, since I left Vashti at the hospital, I haven’t been able to think about much else. “Out of the full heart, the mouth will speak,” the saying goes. And so, at last, I speak.
I think one of the hardest things about the illness or loss of a pet is the way in which it isolates us. There are no rituals, no protocols, no acknowledged bedside vigil when you’re waiting for news about your cat. If (god forbid god forbid) it was Laurence in the hospital fighting for his life, I could stay at the hospital around the clock, waiting for updates from the doctors. Friends and family members, both of ours, would be there to wait with me. Calling them and telling them what hospital and what was going on would be, in itself, a mercy of temporary productivity. They would hold my hand, bring me food or things I needed from home, or take turns relieving my vigil while I ran my own errands or caught a couple of hours of sleep. I wouldn’t even have to think about doing any of these things—they are simply What One Does when someone we love falls ill.
But Laurence and I are waiting here alone. We’ve told a few friends, of course, who’ve been wonderfully sympathetic and supportive. Still, the illness of a pet isn’t acknowledged by society as the kind of thing that uproots your life, that hollows you out with fear and grief, that leaves you incapable of doing anything else or that others should rally to your side to help you bear. And so we have only each other as we wait and worry, worry and wait. I don’t mean to minimize this—having Laurence with me, and knowing that Laurence loves Vashti as much as I do, is the only thing holding me together.
I’ve received thousands of letters from readers since Homer’s Odyssey was published. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky, in that—out of those thousands—I can literally count on one hand the number of negative letters I’ve gotten. One of them was from a teenaged girl in Roanoke, who claimed that she would have liked the book except it was so obvious that I had replaced Scarlett and Vashti with Homer, and then eventually replaced Homer with Laurence.
I wrote back to the girl (I answer every reader letter I get), and explained that, when you’re a writer telling a story, you have to be selective of what you tell and where you put the emphasis, for the sake of creating a narrative. For example, I told her, because this was a book about Homer, I never wrote about things that had nothing to do with him, like the boyfriend I was madly in love with who was unfaithful and broke my heart; or the boss who made me so miserable that, for a year, I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning; or the time the drycleaner lost my favorite shirt; or the day when, out of the blue, I found the birthday card my grandmother had given me on my second birthday (signed, “Love, Bamma and Bampa”), and how, even though I was in my thirties by then, I slept with it under my pillow for a month because it made me feel closer to her than I had since her death.
None of those things had anything to do with Homer, or his story, or the story of our lives together.
And because the story was Homer’s, Scarlett and Vashti ended up being cast in the roles of “supporting characters.” This was necessary for story-telling purposes, I explained, but in no way reflected the strength of my feelings for them, or their individual importance in my “real” life.
What would I have said about Vashti, had the story been hers and not Homer’s? I probably would have talked more about adopting her, how she was in worse shape than any kitten I had ever seen when my mother first brought me to the tool shed at her school where they were holding Vashti to keep her from running away. She was dirty and smelly and itchy, and painfully skinny, and so tiny! I brought her back to my office, where she climbed onto my shoulder and slept in my hair all day (while I desperately prayed I wouldn’t catch her fleas or mites), until I brought her to the vet. When she was in her carrier on the way to the vet’s office, she kept stretching her little paws pleadingly out to me through the grates, wanting nothing except to crawl back into my hair for warmth. Already, she was “my” cat.
I might have told how I broke the news to my then-boyfriend, Jorge, that we were about to have a second cat—a second cat he emphatically did not want. I called him at work and cheerfully announced, “There’s going to be twice as much love in our house!” He was not amused. But he agreed to let me bring Vashti home just long enough for us to find a “permanent” home for her with another family. We all know how that story ended. Jorge’s father—a quiet and non-demonstrative sort—was the first man ever to fall in love with Vashti. “The Arctic Fox,” he called her, because of her long plume of white tail, and his eyes glowed whenever he looked at her. But this was later, after Vashti had become an acknowledged beauty.
I named her Vashti not knowing she was going to be beautiful. In fact, I thought she was going to be an ugly little thing—what else could I have thought, given how mangy and filth-encrusted she was back then? It was a full month before I realized her nose was pink and not black. So I thought naming her after a beautiful Persian queen was ironic, and also my own commitment to always see the beauty in her, even if it wasn’t there on the surface. But, of course, Vashti showed me. I always think that her growing into such a stunningly beautiful cat was the greatest “ugly duckling” story I ever saw in real life, and Vashti’s best revenge against all of us who doubted her.
Vashti was so still and quiet that first day when I found her, and I thought she was going to be an unusually still and serious kitten. Now I know she was just weak and ill, and starved practically to death. The first night she came home, after she’d seen the vet, I kept her in the bathroom overnight. I thought she’d feel safer with her own room, and we also had to monitor a first introduction to Scarlett. When I opened the bathroom door the following morning, a teeny Vashti came bursting through it as if a late-night talk show host had just announced her name. She was bright yellow from the sulfur dip that had treated her skin mites, and she whirled around in circles—her nose low to the ground, her rump and tiny tail high in the air—whirled and whirled around Scarlett and me and everything in the room. She was a tiny ball of yellow, smelly joy. It was the first day in her life when she’d felt well-fed and healthy, and her joy was more than she could contain.
I love all three of my cats, but my relationship with each of them is different. Vashti is the only one of my cats who didn’t come to me first through a vet—and I’ve always thought that Vashti viewed me, personally, as her savior. She looks at me with so much love in her eyes! I’ve never seen so much love in the eyes of a cat—or in any eyes, really. I always secretly felt that if some catastrophe made it necessary for the cats to find other homes, Vashti would be the least able to cope. Homer is so ready to love anybody who loves him! And Scarlett is so ready to hate everybody on principle, other than me. Her misanthropy would keep her going out of pure spite.
But Vashti has always been a sort of domestic goddess—sweet and accommodating and happy to welcome anybody into her home, but gently insistent that, no matter how many friends she may have, she has only one true home and that’s with me. Nothing was ever more important to Vashti than being in her home with her family. The one time I tried to leave her someplace else—when she stayed at Jorge’s for a few days and peed on everything he owned—I learned that lesson.
This is not to say that Vashti was anti-social, or unwilling to make friends with others. Vashti always loved it when people came over to visit, although she never put herself forward as insistently as Homer did. Vashti was never one to fight anybody else for her share of attention, even though she loved the attention dearly. The night my apartment was broken into, when there were four police officers in our home taking my statement, investigating the break-in, et cetera, Vashti stood in the middle of the coffee table on her hind legs, her front paws reaching desperately out to the “visitors.” I could almost hear her thinking indignantly, “There are four men here and not one of them is going to pay attention to me?!”
Above all else, Vashti is a gentle soul. She’s so gentle that, except when I put her in her carrier, she never issues a full-throated meow, never raises her voice to demand anything or to warn off another cat. Her meows always come out as coos or tiny squeaks. For this reason, over the years, I’ve tended to call her “Squeaker” or “Li’l Squeaker” or, on occasion, “Squeaker Fromme.” In fourteen years she’s never once hissed, never growled, never snapped or used her teeth, never unsheathed her claws to use on anything except inanimate toys–not even at the vet’s office, where every vet and tech who’s ever worked with her is willing to swear an oath that Vashti is the sweetest cat they’ve ever seen. When we lived with Jorge, in a house that had a screened-in back porch Vashti could play on, she used to love to catch the little gecko lizards that are rife in South Florida. I’d let her out, and within seconds she’d have one in her mouth. I’d force her to spit them out (lizards eat insects, ergo lizards are our friends), and she never fought me. The lizards would always run off, visibly disgruntled but otherwise uninjured. It was as if Vashti wanted to make a game of catching them, but could never bring herself to actually hurt them.
If I had written a book about Vashti instead of Homer, I might have confessed the nagging guilt I’ve always felt deep down, that maybe I did wrong by Vashti when I brought Homer home. Please don’t misunderstand me—I don’t for a second regret adopting Homer. How could I possibly regret it? But Vashti’s always wanted to give and receive so much love and attention, and yet is always so unwilling to muscle past the other cats—who were always much more insistent than she was—to get it. Did I show her enough love? Did I do that thing that sometimes happens in a home where there’s a disabled “child,” where that child receives all the parents’ concern and attention to the detriment of the others?
Sometimes, when I see how happy she’s been with Laurence—how she’s blossomed under all the love and affection he showers her with daily, knowing that finally she has a human in her family who she doesn’t have to share with anybody else—I think maybe she was secretly unhappy all along and simply too much of a good soul to “tell” me so. I don’t know if she can have any idea how much I love her, how empty our home seems without her in it. I’ve spent the past 24 hours wondering if I’ve given her the life she deserved to have, if I’ve made her as happy as she deserves to be. I had to drink nearly a full bottle of wine in one shot last night, before I was able to fall asleep as I pondered that question.
The one thing I never appreciated about Vashti until she was gone is how truly she is the heart of our home. In many families there’s one person who’s the “glue,” and in our family the glue is Vashti. Since she left, Homer has been hiding beneath the covers in the spare bedroom where Vashti likes to nap in a patch of sunlight in the afternoons, and Scarlett has been following me relentlessly with an agitated, questioning meow. Vashti is the only cat who’s willing to play with Homer, the only cat who Scarlett is willing to play with, the one cat who is Laurence’s link to the life of the cats in our home. Now that she’s not here, I feel unmoored, somehow—as if all of us, at any moment, might break off into separate units and go spinning off on our own away from each other. Vashti is the only living creature in our family who every single one of us can agree on loving.
Vashti may not be the kind of cat who books get written about. She’s never done anything more exciting or daring with her life than be endlessly patient with all of us, bear our moods without complaint, put the things we wanted ahead of what she wanted for herself, and love each of us with more love than one little heart should be capable of holding.
Vashti is, in the end, truly the finest of us all.
Long live Vashti.