THE SHEPCAT CHRONICLES

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Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Requiem for a Chair: A Maow Story #7

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“We’ve made a decision,” my mother announced one evening in late July as I FaceTimed with her and Dad during a Royals game, as is our routine.

“We’re sick of looking at you in that beat-up chair. We want to buy you a nice new chair for your birthday. We’re sending you some money now so maybe you can celebrate your birthday in your new chair.”

Their check arrived in my birthday card a few days later and was more than generous. My birthday came and went, because I wasn’t going to replace my battered old friend with just any chair. I visited numerous furniture stores and searched many websites. I conducted a serious online flirtation with a deep red chair with diamond stitching, broad sloping arms and matching ottoman, similar to my old chair in its construction. But for all its grandiloquent potential as a focal point of my living room, it was upholstered in vinyl, and though I sampled some vinyl seating in my travels, I was never able to test-drive that specific chair in person to determine whether I’d want to spend hours and years lounging in it.

In the end, I settled on a wide, inviting, languorous elephant-gray chair (without matching ottoman), upholstered in real leather, in which I had actually sat during my investigations and which presented itself at a price that accommodated my parents’ largesse.

But this isn’t about my new chair.

Tipped off by a friend from work who had recently bought the same chair at a discount furniture outlet, I purchased my broad-shouldered, coffee-brown, bonded-leather command post in late May 2004. I remember the date because one of our first breaking-in engagements was Bravo’s Memorial Day airing of a West Wing marathon. I watched for 13 straight hours and left the chair maybe twice.

It hasn’t exactly encouraged better posture over the years, and while it’s not by any measure built for sleep, no number of muscle spasms or neck cricks have dissuaded me from slumping, snaking and wedging my frame into the meager space provided to do so. I have sought comfort there in ways that it denied being designed for, whether implicitly or expressly, too lazy or exhausted or obstinate to get up and move three steps to stretch out on the couch.

Since January 2006 the chair has weathered moves from Los Angeles to Kansas City to Sacramento to Seattle (and moves within those cities), with only minor wear and tear. Its slow-motion deterioration began in earnest sometime after we moved into the house we called The Silent J. Eventually the leather became unbonded, so to speak, and began to crack and flake off a little at a time, first along the arms, then the seat back, then the seat itself. Much vacuuming of the carpet would follow, but the chair and ottoman remained.

(Since the move to the apartment two years ago, small tears became larger — note the obliterated left arm in particular — and while I did shop for covers, I found none that would stretch to fit the chair’s especially wide, rounded arms, nor any small enough to conform to the ottoman. Meanwhile, every time I rose from the chair, little flakes of brown polyurethane would be stuck to my arms and calves like prosthetically applied birthmarks.)

A rearrangement of the living room furniture put the chair in a more desirable location from which to view the TV, and despite its ongoing dishevelment, I found myself spending more time in it, my shoulders thrown back against its own, the curvature of my spine tempting fate, my legs stretched out before me on the ottoman.

It is in this disposition of my semisupine form that Maow found her own preferred resting place, and the chair, she and I became one. As I have said before, one of the greatest capacities in which I shall ever serve is that of soft stationary object.


Among my favorite memories are our Sundays spent in the chair, my coffee close at hand, my computer and tablet situated for the week’s proofreading, and Maow insinuating herself atop me against the front edge of my lap desk, rendering the wrist pad moot and finding comfort where none seemed evident (or willing it through her sheer stubbornness, not unlike my own aforementioned attempts to sleep in the chair). Once my work was complete, her patience would be rewarded by the unobstructed expanse of my lap, and hours of intoxicating torpor would ensue. Baseball or football games, movies, immobility. Bliss.

Before our final car trip, en route to our last terrible appointment, we spent most of that long last day together in the chair, in the dim, cool, quiet apartment. She was smaller and weaker than she had been only a month before, and I made a cushion out of a folded bath towel to make her as comfortable as possible before lifting her onto my lap. Had I not determined that morning that letting her go was the most loving, humane thing I could do for her, I could have sat there with her forever.

So I will confess to a brief pang of defiance in the moments following my parents’ generous offer (how dare they?), precisely because this was Maow’s and my chair. The suggestion that I part with it after all we had been through together was a momentary affront, like being slapped with a gauntlet or having a glass of water thrown in my face. Had Mom and Dad not announced their gift when they did, there’s no telling how long I would have continued whiling away my downtime in the dilapidated, slowly eroding wreckage of the chair.

On delivery day I sank into its embrace for one last, lingering cup of coffee as I began writing this chronicle, before upending it and pushing it toward the exit to make room for its successor, before dragging it downstairs, pushing it across the parking lot and behind my building’s dumpster, where oversize items go to await their final journeys to the landfill. I will no doubt see it there several times in the intervening days or weeks and feel sadness and longing for the past. If you’ve read these chronicles at all, you know by now that this is who I am.

I carry Maow everywhere in my heart and still have physical reminders of her close at hand, but that chair was an island that we alone inhabited (I Crusoe, she Friday), and even though a fairly magnificent piece of furniture now occupies the space where it once stood, where we spent that last day together, it may be a while before it stops feeling like an absence, a hole in the room where something is missing.

Sometimes when I entertain thoughts of an afterlife, I imagine that a suitably perfect one might be spent in that old chair, restored to its former glory — whether situated in a meticulously re-created living room or suspended in an endless void; it doesn’t really matter — stroking Maow’s fur as she naps and purrs on my lap for eternity, like one perfect never-ending Sunday.

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Written by Shepcat

August 25, 2019 at 10:21 am

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

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Pay It Forward: A Maow Story — #6 in a Series

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A little after 10 a.m. Friday I received the sad news that Burns had passed away that morning, and right there in the breakroom at work, with a dozen or so co-workers milling about nearby, I became teary-eyed. Not crying exactly but just lachrymose enough that if someone glanced my way, they might have asked whether I was OK.

I pushed a tear away with my thumb and a moment later another arrived in its place. It persisted, and on my way back to work I had to will myself not to think of Burns so I could hold it together in front of customers and co-workers and get on with my day.

Burns was a 15-year-old orange tabby I followed on Twitter.

One of four, to be exact, whose human is a political writer I follow. A world-class journalist whose fine work is somehow overshadowed by the four (now three) orange tabbies with whom he and his wife share their lives. The Garfields, he calls them.

There’s a well-known science-fiction writer I follow primarily because of his four cats, the youngest of whom was a stray tuxedo kitten his family took in a year ago, who has blossomed into as charismatic a troublemaker as you would hope to find on social media.

Yet another cat I follow, on both Twitter and Instagram, this one a tortoiseshell — one of two rescue floofs who belong to a writer and criminologist in New England — is about to have surgery next week, and I have nervously awaited news of her health as her sad saga has unfolded. The surgery will cost her humans about $3,500, and they are rallying to raise the money however they can. And I feel that, because we’ve been there.

When Adriane’s Big Cat (aka B.C., whom I referred to affectionately as Suitcase) was ailing during our year in Sacramento, I was in no position to tell Adriane not to spend $1,200 or so on the surgery we hoped would save this creature who had been her companion for a decade or more. Sadly, the surgery revealed a larger underlying issue that would have required another surgery to correct, but ultimately we couldn’t justify the additional trauma that second surgery would cause him, with no promise that it would improve his quality of life. That second decision wasn’t about the money at all — though again, I couldn’t have said no — which is how you want it to be, if only for your own peace of mind.

When Maow became weaker and began to fail in the fall of 2017, I was fortunately in a position to throw money at the crisis — about $1,700 all told, after I took her to the emergency veterinary hospital. All it bought me was a few more days with her and the peace of mind that her regular vet had denied me, but it was worth it. And I would do it again. I can’t imagine not doing it.

That Friday night, when Maow was taken from me to have her vital stats collected and to be assigned her kennel, I stood at reception as other humans checked in their pets — I remember a bulldog and a golden retriever, though I can’t recall their names or illnesses now, but in particular I remember an older gray tabby who experienced so much pain when he pooped that he would leap straight up into the air. Which is hilarious for about three seconds, until you look into that poor cat’s eyes and see the concern etched into its human’s face, which was exactly as troubled as my own. And though my entire weekend was a sad, slow march toward letting go of Maow, I worried about all three of those pets and wondered about their care and progress all weekend.

That’s one of many final gifts Maow gave me: affection and concern for the pets of people I don’t even know.

Rest assured, then, that if I do know you — even if I’m unable to express it adequately at the time — I am standing beside you in spirit as you care for a sick or dying pet, and I’m very likely an emotional wreck about it. Because I’ve been there, and every minute of that harrowing last weekend still plays inside me on a loop.

Written by Shepcat

July 12, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

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365 Days: A Maow Story — #5 in a Series

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One year today.

And a quiet, lonesome year it has been.

Maow was the soul of our home, the mouthy, furry, opinionated, playful, scornful, purring, napping still point of my turning world, and not a day passes that I don’t miss her like an amputated limb. She was the long-suffering object of my constant affection, my greatest gift, my sidekick, my backup, my office manager, my supervising editor, my not-so-silent partner, my confidant, essential to the machinery of daily life — and the gears of our little operation have slowed to a grind in her absence.

Because I tend to anthropomorphize and project, and because I had scant prior experience with cats, I used to fret that Maow’s world was so small, confined to the walls of whatever space we lived in or the backyard we occasionally allowed her to roam and forage, that she was a hostage, a prisoner. Then over time I shrank my own world down to fit into hers. Her world became mine.

And before you think it or say it: Yes, I know that was probably unhealthy. That doesn’t mean that it — that she — wasn’t the best thing for me at the time. You can’t convince me that human contact had anything more to offer me. I mean, you’ve met people, right?

In many ways my world is still as small as the one I shared with Maow. I am branching out a little at a time, gradually re-expanding the sphere of my experience, but I am still waiting for the catalyst, the inciting incident, the course-altering event that will point me toward the undiscovered country of who I’m going to be without her.

Of course, Maow is still with me every day. Literally. The tiny pine box that holds her cremains occupies a shelf not 20 feet from where I spend most of my time — which is to say where we spent most of our time together those last two months.

She pops up frequently in Facebook and Instagram memories, and rare is the day that Adriane or I don’t have a picture of her to share with each other. I admit to feeling cheated on those pictureless days, but I have also had at any given time as many as 16 open browser tabs in which I’ve saved various ones for quick reference. (Never mind the voluminous archive of Maow photos that is effectively just a few extra mouse clicks away.)

She turns up in my dreams occasionally, as recently as a few weeks ago in fact. And I hope she continues to do so, even though my febrile unconscious mind too often busies itself with improbable architecture and casts of unknowns staging impromptu one-acts cobbled together by whatever’s playing on TV when I fall asleep and whatever I happened to eat or drink that night.

She lives in my waking imagination as well, which is to say I often consider an alternate timeline in which Maow is alive and well and factoring into my decision-making, however unmoored from reality those big-picture considerations might be.

When Adriane and I finally listed the Silent J on the market, I scrambled to find Maow and me a new place to live. The house had been at least twice as much space as we needed, and had I not required the use of the master bathroom, neither of us would have had any reason to climb the stairs.

For the short term, we were downsizing to an apartment, but I had for some time fantasized about — was frankly mildly obsessed with — an unconventional dream house: a converted Quonset hut with a mostly open floor plan of about 1,000 square feet, no stairs to climb, a domain whose breadth Maow could survey with a single sweeping glance. Never mind the unlikelihood of finding an extant one locally or the unreality of my buying a plot of land and commissioning the design and construction of one — if people can live in yurts and igloos and tiny houses, I saw no reason why Maow and I couldn’t have a Quonset hut to call home.

It was not to be, of course, but even now I find myself on walks about town judging the merits and drawbacks of various small ranch homes and ramblers I encounter, considering their suitability for Maow and me. Not some prospective feline to be rescued, adopted and named at a later date, mind you. Maow.

Earlier this year, when I read for the first time Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America, I indulged the equally ludicrous fantasy of hitting the open road with Maow in a Rocinante of our own. Never mind that Maow loathed and distrusted the implications of car travel. I imagined that, appointed with appropriate creature comforts, as it were, a homey enough vehicle would grow on her, and she would gladly divide her time either comfortably ensconced in our cozy living quarters or curled beside me on the front seat as I drove. (Much like my Quonset-hut pipe dream, I imagined cutting a hole in the back window to accommodate a Maow-size airlock connecting the truck’s cab to the camper.)

At one time or another, in one way or another, I’ve failed everyone I’ve ever loved. So when Maow and I became two against the world, she became my last, best hope to love someone without fail or regret.

Over what we did not know at the time was the last year of her life, I left Maow on a few occasions — a fishing trip with my dad and brother; back home again for Christmas; a family wedding in Texas — and I dreaded every departure and hated our every minute apart. Even though the neighbor kid was a kind, attentive and reliable pet-sitter, even though Adriane had bought us a Wi-Fi–connected camera so we could look in on her, I hated the thought of Maow alone in that big house, with no sense of the passage of time, no certainty that I would eventually be coming home to her, even though I always did.

All told we spent about five weeks apart that last year, and even though I spent that time in the company of people I love, I wish I had it all back. I wish I had never left her.

That’s exactly the kind of monster I am. Now you know.

Because with an unhesitating degree of certainty I can claim for no one else, I would have run into a burning building for Maow. And at the end, as she became weaker and smaller and the inevitable drew nearer, I would gladly have traded her failing health for that burning building, because it would have meant that I could actually do something for her.

In the end, all I could do was let her go. I hope but will never be entirely convinced that I didn’t fail her in some way. I will never believe I entirely reciprocated all that she gave me. I will always have debits in the ledger. I will always wish I could have done more. I will always wish we had more time together.

Maow was my whole heart. She still is.

Written by Shepcat

November 14, 2018 at 4:05 am

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

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A Maow Story — #4 in a Series

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The hardest part is letting go. Still.

As of this writing, it’s been over four months, but I still find myself forced to let go of Maow in moments that no one else would notice, in ways you’d need a microscope to observe. Which on its face is a ridiculous notion, because she’ll never be gone from my memory or my heart. There’ll always be something to remind me of her.

I have a couple thousand pictures of her on my phone and my computer. I have a little wooden keepsake box that contains her ashes. I have a tiny stoppered bottle that contains the little gifts of dropped whiskers and shed claws that she used to leave around our house, for God’s sake.1 I have one of her squeaky-mouse toys that I withheld from the cache that I gifted to Nani in Hawaii; an ornament bearing her likeness, one of two that a dear friend made and sent to Adriane and me last November; the “It’s All About Maow” sign that my niece gave us one Christmas.

Maow’s carpeted tower still stands in a corner of my apartment as a monument to her absence, atop it her blue harness and leash, and the litter scoop that hasn’t made it into the storage closet with the litter box. There’s even one-third of a bag of litter in the office closet that I haven’t figured out how to dispose of yet. To the casual observer, the existence of these durable capital resources might appear to be evidence that I’m thinking of getting another cat, but I have no such plans for the immediate or even distant-ish future. There is no particular imperative for my holding on to them.

But again, there is the occasional instance or moment that drops on me like an emotional anvil.

I finally got around one day to clearing some things off the dining table that had been sitting there since November — detritus, really, was all it was. Plastic bags that had contained items the emergency veterinary clinic had sent home with me. Medication that she had never been administered that I needed to dispose of. Paperwork of absolutely no importance.

The thing that broke me was the small, flimsy cardboard box which had protected the tiny wooden box for her ashes. I was about to break it down for recycling when I saw the label on one end that read “Maow Shepherd” — printed entirely for logistical purposes by the crematory, to clarify to whom her cremains were to be returned — which was all it took to unglue me. The idea that she didn’t merely belong to me (though in fact it was the other way around) but that she was a part of me, that she was family, left me flailing in a pool of tears for the rest of the afternoon. I ended up cutting out the labeled panel of the box before recycling the rest.

Later I found in the office a makeshift toy Adriane had made for Maow — a small ring of twine at the end of a string, attached to a long stick, literally a small, straight, sturdy branch snapped off a tree. There seemed no point in keeping the toy, so I dismantled it and decided to toss the stick outside, back into the wild, as it were. Instead of just heaving it off in any random direction, though, I placed it in the grass directly in front of my assigned parking space. I suppose I thought it might be appropriated for fetch by some dog walker who happened to spot it or transformed by the imagination of a child in need of a wand. In any event, I checked for it every time I parked my car or vacated the space, and there in the grass it remained for a month or so, until one day recently it was gone. Not merely relocated, as was revealed by a scan of the immediate area, but gone. And while I’m not emotionally distraught about its sudden absence, I am nonetheless wistful. About a stick.

Finally, I was taking the train into the city last weekend to meet the guys for drinks, and for the first time in a long time I had worn my herringbone topcoat, sort of dressing myself up a bit even though I was wearing jeans and boots. Anyway, I was sitting there with nothing else to distract me when I happened to spy a hair standing out along the hem of the coat. So I plucked it, and even though it could have come from anywhere, it seemed irrefutable to me that it was a cat hair — a Maow hair — that had somehow clung to the wool of the coat for God knows how many months and survived the move and clung there still as the coat hung in the closet in my apartment until this very evening on which I decided to wear it. I held the hair between my thumb and forefinger for the longest time, holding it up to the light, thinking of Maow but marveling at the resilience of the hair itself, that it had somehow arrived at that moment with me.

I knew I couldn’t hold onto it forever. It was too small and the moment too fleeting. I could put it in a pocket or rub it back onto the hem of my coat where I had found it, but the odds of it holding on were even slimmer than my ability to hold onto it in that moment. Even as I held it, I could lose sight of it in the light just by turning my hand a certain way. I knew that my train ride was brief and that I couldn’t will my fingers to remain pinched, and I wasn’t thinking of all the pictures and all the keepsakes and all the evidence of Maow back in my apartment, but only of that moment and that single hair, until I relaxed my hand and suddenly it wasn’t there anymore.

The hardest part is letting go. Of anything.
 
 
 
 
 
1 I’ve always joked with Adriane that I was holding on to Maow’s DNA on the off chance that she could one day be cloned. And wouldn’t you know it — a recent story alleges that Barbra Streisand did just that with one of her dogs that passed away. So maybe now I’m just waiting on the big break that results in an influx of crazy, ultradisposable Streisand dollars.

Written by Shepcat

March 9, 2018 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

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A Maow Story — #3 in a Series

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Last night, for only the most trivial and arbitrary reasons, I didn’t want to eat my dinner from a full-size bowl. Too big for what I was eating, didn’t want to dirty it, whatever.

It so happens that the only clean, appropriately small bowl I had — which then proved to be almost too small for what I was eating — was Maow’s old water bowl, an off-white ceramic bowl with a small base and fluted sides. It’s been clean for the last two months, stored in the same cabinet with the rest of my bowls, but I’ve avoided it almost unconsciously. Until last night.

Even as I was ladling my dinner into the bowl, I felt wrong about it. The bowl is very much hers and was from the minute we first set it down for her. Of the three water bowls we initially placed throughout the house, to encourage hydration when we were most worried about her kidneys, it was the one she drank from most frequently, the one situated on the landing of our staircase. I once placed a different bowl there while it was in the dishwasher, and I think we both felt weird about it. They were swapped back as soon as the fluted bowl was clean.

The bowl is in the dishwasher now, and 16 hours or so later I still feel weird about having eaten from it.

Later in the evening, I dozed off during a movie I was watching, and I dreamed about Maow.

She was happy to see me the way dogs are happy to see you when you come back into the room after five minutes away, bounding over to me with uncharacteristic intensity. It would have been disorienting had she done it in real life.

At one point, she climbed up on my chest (which she also never did) and kissed me repeatedly, inasmuch as a cat can kiss, bobbing her head and planting little pecks on my cheek. However disorienting this too would have been, I recognized the moment it referred back to.

When my eldest niece, the first grandchild in our family, was born, we were all giddily obsessed with her and lavished affection on her constantly. We joke that for the first two years of her life, her feet never touched the floor, because someone was always holding her.

On what may have been her first birthday, if memory serves me correctly, I was holding her in one arm in the kitchen, where the whole family was gathered, and every so often I’d kiss her on the cheek or the top of her head. Then someone placed a bowl of vanilla ice cream in front of me, and with my free hand I took a couple of bites before putting a smaller amount at the tip of the spoon and raising it to her lips.

She loved it. And she thanked me with a tiny kiss on the cheek.

I gave her another bite of ice cream. I was rewarded with another, bigger kiss. Soon it became clear that she thought if she kept kissing me, I’d keep giving her ice cream. We ate the whole bowl this way, with me receiving a kiss every time she took a bite of ice cream.

This is how Maow kissed my cheek in the dream.

That was the second time I’ve dreamed about Maow since she left us. I believe it was entirely circumstantial, owing to my dinnertime dilemma. I don’t believe she was somehow addressing me from beyond to let me know it’s OK for me to use the bowl. I’m still going to feel weird about it for a while, and I may avoid the bowl more consciously until a little more time passes and I realize that for the love of God it’s just a bowl or that using it makes me feel more connected to her. I don’t know why it should be this bowl, of all things, that makes me feel this way, but there you have it.

In any event, I hope Maow keeps turning up in my dreams.

Written by Shepcat

January 10, 2018 at 11:16 am

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

Tagged with

A Maow Story — #2 in a Series

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I wanted my and Maow’s last day together to be as peaceful for her as possible, and for the most part it was.

I folded a bath towel so she’d have something soft to lie on, then lifted her onto my lap, and for the better part of six hours we sat in our chair together, listening to podcasts at low volume while I stroked her fur, scratched her ears and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

Later that evening, when it was time to leave for the veterinary clinic, I placed her in her open carrier and held it up near my face so I could talk soothingly to her as we made our way down to the car. She hated car trips, but this time she wasn’t enclosed in her carrier — she was now too weak to have made any attempt at escape — so I hoped that it would be a nice, calm, easygoing ride.

We got into the car, and I was a moment too long getting her carrier situated in the passenger seat before turning the key in the ignition … which was my aging vehicle’s cue to trigger its alarm, the insistent, repetitive stab-stab-stabbing of the car horn, shattering any semblance of serenity we had enjoyed up to that point.

I’ve never actually timed it, but it takes somewhere between 30 seconds and a freaking eternity for the car to register that it’s being driven by its rightful owner, who opened and started it with its original factory-issued key, rather than hijacked by a common criminal who breached it with a coat hanger or a brick and hot-wired it under the dash.

Once the horn finally quit blaring, the rest of the drive entailed more fur-stroking and soothing conversation, as I attempted to reclaim our serenity en route to complete the saddest of all possible errands.

Flash forward to this afternoon, three weeks later. The clinic called to notify me that Maow’s cremains were available to be picked up, so I made that drive one last time.

After signing and dating the cremation registry, I was handed a small box containing Maow’s remains, an envelope containing a cremation certificate, and a clay keepsake with an impression of Maow’s paw. I thanked the receptionist one last time, and Maow and I left together, headed home.

Once outside, balancing these items in one hand as I got back into the car, I was a moment too long getting them — getting her — situated in the passenger seat.

I set off the damn car alarm again.

This has been a Maow story.
 

Written by Shepcat

December 5, 2017 at 11:03 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

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A Maow Story — #1 in a Series

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It should surprise no one that I have an occasionally volatile temper and a frequently expressed penchant for profanity. The luxury of working from home for as long as I did is that I could express the upper registers of my outrage and artistry without shattering the presumed civility of an office environment and being summoned to H.R. for a lecture or my dismissal.

The downside of this arrangement was the proximity of my lone, entirely innocent office mate: Maow. When jackasses at work stressed me out, it caused me to stress out Maow, which was the very last thing I wanted.

So after unleashing a torrent of obscenities, I would often find myself kneeling down to Maow, stroking her fur to calm us both, and apologizing to her as soothingly as possible: “I’m not mad at you. I could never be mad at my Maow.”

Flash forward to the terrible last month of her life. She had spent an entire week, more or less, in seclusion behind the gold brocade chair, but as time went on and she rebounded a bit, she returned there only periodically, instead spending most of her time in the dining area or on the couch with me.

I wasn’t working then but would from time to time drop an F-bomb or spew a flurry of invective — a computer crash here, a Trump sound bite there.

On at least three of these occasions, my outbursts prompted Maow to emerge from behind the gold chair, as though she knew I needed to stroke her fur and come down from my anger.

Pets. What did we ever do to deserve them?

This has been a Maow story.

Written by Shepcat

November 16, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

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