23 September 2016

The Life of Sabine

This past weekend, I had the first glimpse of healing. On Friday afternoon, the crematorium called letting me know that Igor's remains were ready to pick up. When I got him back home with us, I felt better. It's hard to articulate, but it made me feel like I could talk to him again. That he was with us again.  On Friday night, Sabine and I had a memorial for him. She sat on his bed, while I put his ashes in a little gaudy golden box I bought for him. It was cathartic. It was healing. On Saturday morning, when I was feeding Sabine, I joked him with him about how demanding she was in the mornings.

The weekend was good. Like really good. I was productive, again. Sabine and I got a ton of couch time. I was starting to feel like life was turning around. Or at least, I was finding a way to turn it around. I was starting to see the silver lining. Folks had been talking to me about how I should maybe get another cat, a companion for Sabine. But I was imagining Sabine and I like two old gals in our golden years. We'd sit on the couch, joking about how hot Idris Elba is while we sipped rose. She'd keep me company in the bath. See, it has never just been the two of us and I was looking forward to a few more years where we could do that. Just two ol' gals, living out the rest of our days together.

On Monday night, I took two pictures of Sabine. One where she was perched at the end of the bed. I took it because Sabine usually sleeps in her own bed and only gets in my bed to wake me up for the morning feeding. I anticipated sharing the picture, remarking how sweet it was that she was trying to comfort me since my usual snuggle companion was gone. The second picture, which she would be mad at me for posting, is her snuggling right up next to me and watching Narcos with me.It was so dark in the room, so I used the flash. It was the kind of picture you take of your friend and she says to: "Delete that. Now. Seriously." I fell asleep around 11:30pm.

But then, I woke up around 1:30am. When I first woke up, I heard some howling downstairs. I was in that foggy just-awake feeling. I heard howling, but I thought, omgato, is Sabine really hungry right now? Then, I heard claws on the floor and I thought I was having weird sensory memories of Igor (and the sound of his little nails as he ran across the floor). I heard something else. It sounded like something falling down. Then, I heard more howls. So, I jumped up figuring that Sabine was causing trouble because she was hungry.

But no, there she was. She was laying on the floor, approximately two feet away from where Igor had died. I went to touch her and her whole body was limp. Loose and limp. And she just stared at me and howled away. In the next five to ten minutes, Sabine would die in my arms. In those few moments, time moved both fast and slow. At first, I threw on my shoes and started to dial the number to the emergency vet. But as I held her, I realized, there wasn't time. I could see in her eyes that she was suffering. I could see that she was leaving me. And just like that, she was gone. Both of them were gone. And the house was quiet.

Sabine came into my life in August of 2004. Some friends of mine, well, actually ex-roommates, had several kittens that had been born. They asked me if I wanted one or two.  I remember the kittens were living in some strange conditions. At first they lived underneath the sink in a party house. Then, they were living in a shed behind the house. When I went to pick out the two I wanted, I remember we opened the door to the shed, the sun shone in, and their sweet little eyes narrowed at the light. I picked out two little girls-- a tabby and an all black kitten. When I grabbed the tabby one (who would later be named Sabine), I remember she bit me.  I decided to name them after two characters from the novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I know, I know, I'm like a teenage girl, but I loved that book. And so they would be Sabine and Tereza.

One of the funniest memories I have of them as kittens was when I received a phone call from the previous owners. One of the other kittens had bitten someone and broke the skin. There was a whole rabies scare. Since the kittens were so little and  their mothers had run off, there was no way to verify whether or not the kittens had rabies. They had been advised by animal control to quarantine the other kittens, until they could find out. They called me to warn me. I remember coming home from school that evening...Sabine and Tereza were standing in the living room. And it was a stand-off, I was sure they were going to destroy me. They were trying to play, but I successfully corralled them into the bathroom where I would keep them, maybe for the rest of all time. It was a rather hilarious night, as I ran from these two tiny kittens. A day later, I realized this was ridiculous and took my chances.

Sabine was certainly beloved. She was a character. She was Sabine, Beanie, Beanz, Beans.  She was the girl you didn't fuck with. She was also the girl who didn't give a fuck what you thought. She did what she wanted. All the time. 

Sabine was a survivor. Where Igor was sensitive and delicate, Sabine was tough as nails. I think its because of her life growing up. Even once we were together, Sabine did not have it easy. Within the first month or so, her sister Tereza would pass away. Within the second month or so, my apartment would be broken into and the cats would be the only eyewitnesses. When I arrived back home to find the door kicked in, Sabine was cowered behind the couch, terrified and shaking. When Sabine was old enough to get fixed, she had a botched surgery, which caused her a significant amount of pain. I had to take her back to get it stitched back up, and in the aftermath, she was forced to wear a cone around her head for months.

When I first introduced her to Igor, she acted like she didn't really care. But as I mentioned in the eulogy for Igor, within a few months, the two of them would start to cuddle up with one another. That Christmas when I found Igor in the tree, Sabine even made friends with my mom's dog, Julius. I remember on Christmas Day finding the two of them sleeping on the couch together. She certainly was a peculiar little lady. She was the kind of cat who either liked you or didn't. She wasn't lukewarm. It was all or nothing with her.

As a young cat, Sabine was quite agile. She was obsessed with laser pointers. She actually performed a trick where I'd shine the laser up near the window of the front door, and she'd jump clear up to the window. She was also obsessed with rubber bands. When the mail would arrive, she would take the rubber band and spend hours throwing it up in the air and catching it on her own. When I still lived in Charlotte, I told the mail-lady about Sabine's love of rubber bands. And she started bringing more. I'd be in the kitchen working, with the front door open, and I'd hear the mail-lady say, "Hey Sabine. How are you?" Sabine would meow a hello. She'd reply, "I have rubber bands for you today!" She also loved balled up pieces of paper. She was obviously a cat that lived with a graduate student. On those endless days and nights when I'd be working on a paper, I'd ball up a piece of paper and throw it across the floor. Very quickly, Sabine started playing fetch with the paper, like a friggin' dog. She'd go pick it up in her mouth, walk across the floor howling, and promptly drop it at my feet. And then, we'd do it again. See, she was very peculiar.

In our years together, Sabine slept in her own bed. Here in Flagstaff, it was on a shelf in my bathroom closet. She also went to bed on her own. Igor and I would still be downstairs watching television and she'd quietly make her way up the stairs to her own bedroom. She only came to my bed when she wanted to be fed. When it was time, she let me know. She would sit in bed next to me and tap my face, and tap is probably a nice way to say it, but tap my face until I woke up. In the days when I wanted to sleep in, Sabine wouldn't stand for it. She would get on the bedside table and knock every single item off, until I woke up. While this often drove me crazy, it also made me laugh. She was manipulative about it. She would knock one item off at a time, then pause, turn to look at me like she was saying "See. See what I did. I'll do it again. Or, are you getting up?" The girl knew what she wanted. And she intended on letting everyone know it.

She loved birds. In all the places we've lived, Sabine would perch in the window to watch the birds. Here in Flagstaff, I'm pretty sure she friended a baby bird who had its nest right outside the living room window. I'm not sure friend is the right word, but she loved loved loved to watch that little baby bird. She also loved toys. Her favorite toy, a stuffed rainbow scented with catnip, was a gift from her Uncle Art. She acccumulated quite a few toys over the years. Like a parent of a toddler, I'd put them inside this little cat house they had. And, pretty much every day, Sabine would get them out. She'd put it in her mouth, carry it through the house, then carry it up the stairs while she howled away, leaving them at the top of the stairs as gifts...or maybe she was trying to trip me? You could never be sure with that one.

Her favorite party trick, well, maybe it was mine, was how she would screech when you tried to pick her up. She hated to be picked up. When you tried to pick her up, she would screech and flail about until you put her back down. In some ways, it became a game. How long could you hold Sabine before she scratched you? The first few times this happened, I thought she was mad. But as soon as you put her down on the floor, she'd come running back over and rub her face on you like crazy. And her and her Uncle Art did this all the time. Actually, Art and I were talking late last week about the loss of Igor, he joked about Sabine's screeches. So, I took a video of her, while I tried to pick her up, and she screeched. It brought a smile to my face. And him and I laughed on the phone together.

Sabine was a big girl. She wasn't tall or long, but she was just round. Super round. Sometimes when she laid out on the couch or floor, she would almost look like a tabby pancake. And every time someone met her for the first time, like maintenance people, they'd remark: "Why, you certainly are a big one, aren't you?" She did not hide how she felt about this. She would give them a snarky look. See, she didn't feel bad about her size, she loved herself. She would also lay out on her back with all of her belly up in the air. I can remember people always joking about how she was thinking, "Paint me like one of your French girls."

One of her favorite things that we did together was taking baths. Well, more accurately, I'd take a bath and she'd hang out in the bathroom with me. Most of the time, she would perch up on the side of the bathtub, which actually I found terrifying. A few times she'd almost jump in. Other times, she'd just lay on the bathmat next to the tub, keeping me company. It was one of our things.

She also worked as my personal trainer. Every time, I'd retreat upstairs to do yoga or exercise, she watched over me. I felt like I could always hear her pushing me to keep going. She was also a talker. I swear, she learned how to say, "Mama." And when she'd want my attention, she'd meow out a "Mama." And I'd give anything to hear it right now.

If anything, she was notorious for her resting bitch face. She was simply not easily amused by your antics. Or mine, for that matter. 

Sabine was the queen of the castle. It was always her way. She let me know it. She let Igor know this. She reminded him regularly. If he got on her nerves, she was quick to take a paw and slap him across the face. Once he was sick, she did this less, but she still reminded him of who was in charge around here.

Although Sabine was totally independent, she knew when I needed her. When bad things happened in my life and I was on the couch crying, she would stay right next to me. She was intuitive like that. While Igor was not discerning, she picked her moments. Although she probably preferred to be off doing her own thing, she knew I needed her. And after Igor died, she was like that. She was next to me, every single moment.

I'm still in shock that I lost Sabine. She wasn't sick. While I was crying into the phone that morning to Rami and my mom, I kept saying, "I don't fucking understand why this happened." And the only thing I could think was that she died of a broken heart. See, her and Igor had been companions for the past 12 years. In cat years, that's like 70 years or something. For some reason, all I could think of was June and Johnny Cash. I think for Sabine, life didn't make sense without Igor. Some friends of mine have suggested maybe Sabine knew that Igor couldn't make it in the otherworld without her. But I think she just couldn't make it without him. I think while she loved me, Igor was her person. But for me, they were my persons. And its another Friday night, and I'm having another funeral.

And that's what is the most fucked up. I lost both of my companions within the time span of a week and a day. I've tried to make jokes about how I got a discount at the crematorium. Its one of my defense mechanisms, to joke about how ridiculous this feels. But the truth is, I feel lonely. When I was talking to my students about losing Sabine, one of them said: "How are you?" I remarked: "We are okay." But then, I paused and said: "Oh, its just me now. Fuck, yeah, *I* am okay." And that's how it feels right now. Isolating and lonely. I've lived alone for many years. But somehow, I never felt lonely. Even moving out to Flagstaff was a little less terrifying, because I felt like I was doing it with the two of them. We were a family. The three of us. Always together.

And I still move through the house like they are here. When I wake up in the morning, I automatically glance around the bed for them. When I make dinner, I look over to see if they are going to try to eat my food. When I set something on the table, I still move it to the side, just in case they might knock it over. When I go into the bathroom, I look around the corner for one of them to show up meowing at me. When I start to go downstairs in the morning, I always pause at the top of the stairs, thinking to myself, "Are y'all ready for breakfast?" And I'm still pissed that neither one of them ever learned to make my coffee. See, humor, my defense mechanism.

But it hurts. It really hurts. I'm still struggling with the heaviness of the loss. Sometimes, I close the shades on the windows, because I don't want to be reminded of the sunlight that they loved so very much. I haven't been able to wash one of the covers on the couch, because it still has their cat hair on it. I haven't been able to vacuum the carpet, because there are still little bits of litter that they tracked upstairs. And then there is that scratch on my arm. On Sunday morning, Sabine decided that laying next to me wasn't close enough, so she crawled on top of me with all her big glory, but she slide off and scratched me on my arm. And the scratch is still there. All throughout the day, I reach over and touch it, because it reminds me of her. It reminds me of when she was still here with me.

But I know, I know that all of these things will have to go away. The scratch will heal. I will start to clean the house and to store away the extra food and litter I bought in bulk for them. And eventually, the house will no longer smell like those two little babies of mine. My catpilots. My companions. My family.

Life of Sabine Photo Album

And one last dedication to my catpilots, Igor and Sabine...

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