I apologize for not posting and not being much involved in the blogging community in the last few months, a community that I have grown to love and cherish, and which I have missed. I have been working on my novel and it’s just been difficult for me to do both the novel and the blog. Generally the novel has to come first for me, before other writing, as well as bathing and eating and trimming my nose hairs and learning to play the jug, for the jug band I’m thinking of forming with the backyard squirrels.
There are quite a few animal characters in my novel, naturally. It’s challenging to try and see the world from an animal’s eyes, but it’s the best, most fun type of play and pretend for me.
Speaking of animal characters: Lyle, my orange tabby who is on the masthead above, got sick a little over a week ago. I’m so attuned to my cats that I can feel when they’re off almost immediately, which is a particularly helpful sense to have with cats, since they will do anything to hide sickness. I knew by the way he walked and his body language that he was not right.
I met Lyle for the first time through one of those desperation emails that I get too many of, from rescuers and cat-centric people. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas in 2010. Lyle was on the kill list at an L.A. Animal shelter because he had a cold. I passed the email along like I always did (and still do), feeling an extra twinge because this poor guy was going to be killed right around Christmas, merely for having the sniffles.
He was six months old and an orange tabby—my opinion then was that orange tabbies were the least attractive of all cats. If there was one type of cat I knew I was never going to have, it was an orange tabby.
Attached to the email was this photo of him:
The sad look got to me. They were trying to make Lyle festive and he was having none of it. Also the big drooping nose on him (which I love) seemed to add to his mournfulness. I decided I would foster him and try to find him a tabby-loving home. Which means I was bullshitting myself like I always do when I take in a cat—pretending I was going to foster when I knew very well that I was going to adopt. I’m a terrible foster, I fall in love too easily. Ask the fifteen girlfriends I had in the third grade. My mother wouldn’t let me adopt them, though.
A week ago Lyle’s appetite dropped to about a half of what was normal for him. He was also hiding under the TV console. These are red flag behaviors for a cat. I called the vet and grabbed the earliest appointment I could get.
I don’t play favorites with my cats but if pushed I would have to admit that Lyle is my most stunning-looking cat, proving that my perceptions, especially the old, entrenched ones, like I am a dog person and One cat is enough and Tabby cats are ugly, are often wrong. He is powerfully built, his fur is flaming-orange and tiger-striped, he has big meaty paws and a full, leonine tail. He’s even got some space alien in him, which doesn’t quite come through in photos. He has huge almond-shaped eyes and sometimes, particularly at night, when I look over and see his eyes staring at me, I think it’s one of those anal-probing aliens, the grays, coming for me.
Lyle’s meow is in a high register and he often chirps like a bird. I almost renamed him, “Birdy.”
The first time I took Lyle to the vet—this was years ago, just for a check-up—he freaked out. The instant I locked the carrier door behind him, he head-butted the door. He kept thrashing, ramming the carrier with his head and body, over and over, crazy with the fear of where he was being taken or perhaps terrified of being pent-up. I thought for sure he’d bloody himself, injure himself badly, and since I didn’t know Lyle that well yet, I was worried I had adopted a nervous, mentally unbalanced cat. Perhaps an abused cat.
A week ago when I brought Lyle to the vet, he was subdued in the carrier. The car ride was quiet. The vet examined him and came out with that old chestnut, “If only they could talk, tell us what’s wrong.” I hated hearing this because it was another way of saying he had no idea what was wrong. He said maybe it would blow over. I took him home and that night Lyle ate only a little. His appetite was disappearing.
I brought him back in for a battery of tests. They were all negative. He ate a little food off the tips of my fingers, like a baby, but at the rate he was going he was going to start dropping weight fast. I followed him across the floor under a chair to keep shoving the food in his face. He licked halfheartedly at the morsel on my fingers, watched it plop on the ground, and looked at me. I pressed my finger into his face again and he turned his head away. That this-is-final head turn over the right shoulder that cats do. “No more,” it means.
When cats go, it can be fast. And not eating usually precipitates the slide. One night after work, in the fall of 2008, I came home to find Hooper, the second cat I ever had, gravely ill. When I offered him food, I got the head turn. He was dead a week later. Bandit, my black cat who was best friends with Hooper, gave me the final head turn on the last day of June, 2011. He died that day.
Lyle is only four years old.
In four years, I’ve discovered that Lyle isn’t mentally unbalanced. He’s not a lap cat, either. He doesn’t cuddle and he’s particular about how you pet him (cat people will know what I mean by that). But about a year ago Lyle started showing new behaviors. One day I was in the kitchen, making my coffee and staring out at the birds in the backyard, and I felt this brushing against my leg. I turned to find Lyle staring up at me. With those soft space alien eyes. I thought, what does he want? Treat? Water? Brush? Probing of my rectum? He rubbed me again.
The kitchen rubbing has since become regular behavior, and Lyle’s timing has become preternatural, because it usually comes when I’m in the middle of some writerly brooding. I feel that touch on the back of my leg and it always surprises me and makes me soften.
After so many times, I have realized that Lyle doesn’t want anything from me. He keeps on rubbing, whether or not I pet him, or talk to him, or make coffee, or practice my jug playing.
I suspect it’s a gesture of love. My body and my being sure take it that way. If I’m in a black cloud, his touch chases it away. There’s a lot of power in that touch. A lot of power in the love of an animal.
The next step with Lyle was to schedule an Ultrasound to see what was going on.
By this time, he wasn’t even giving his food dish a glance. He licked a few morsels off my fingers, but I got the feeling that he was forcing himself to do it more for me than for his own depressed appetite. Then he gave me the head turn. No more.
It is an old chestnut, but my vet was right: If only Lyle could talk.
“Tell me, Lyle,” I say to him, and he looks at me for a moment, his tail up, before skulking into the corner, under the TV console. At this point, I’m questioning myself. Questioning a big part of how I have arranged my life. Why do I insist on forming close bonds with animals that will die long before I do?
Another new Lyle behavior that has emerged: About three or four months ago Lyle started jumping on the bed. If there was space on the bed on my left side—left side only—he’d crawl up next to my head and get comfortable. He’d let me pet him without any irritation on his part. No snuggling or spooning or anything like that—but he’d arrange himself so there was at least one point of contact with me, like the ridge of his back against my chest.
At this point Lyle had been sick a week, and his appetite had faded to almost nothing. Desperate, I called a homeopathic, uh, healer, would be the proper title for her, since her first step is for me to send a photo of Lyle so she can “tune into” him. Like a clairvoyant would do. Although she’s focusing on Lyle’s energies and his illness, not his horoscope or his dead relatives. She said she’d call me back that night.
I believe there are a lot of mysteries in life. I try to be open to them. This healer had helped me with my cat Picasso as well, though he had never been this sick. But I had gone the vet route first. I called the homeopathic healer only when I was getting no answers, and the days were slowly ticking by with Lyle eating less and less.
The healer said Lyle had a stomach infection. She wanted me to start administering Sulphur, a homeopathic remedy. Apparently it’s an all-purpose remedy, effective at treating many different conditions. I started the next day, expecting a fight with Lyle, since I had to dissolve the pellets of Sulphur into water and then syringe the solution down his throat.
He didn’t like it much that I was corralling him to stick a tube down his throat. But he didn’t fight me, either.
One of the things the homeopathic healer likes to say is that if the animal needs it—the supplement or the remedy—they’ll want it. They won’t fight it, they’ll receive it.
The first day of administering the Sulphur remedy Lyle was still turning up his nose at the food. But he showed more interest in eating from my hand. At the dinnertime meal I squatted in the kitchen for about forty-five minutes, feeling pins and needles in my thighs, as Lyle, lick by lick, ate the most he had eaten in a week.
By the second day of the Sulphur remedy Lyle was back to eating full meals, albeit still out of my hand. I saw the spring return to his step. He didn’t hide anymore. He was chirping again. My anxiety began to lift. So did any lingering skepticism about homeopathic healers.
By the fourth day—the last day of giving Lyle the Sulphur remedy—Lyle was eating on his own. The next time something like this happens, the homeopathic healer gets the first call, before the vet.
The writing of my novel has been kind of up and down lately. Yesterday I wrote one good line. One good line plus however many shitty lines that add up to one whole page. I hadn’t written a blog post in over a month. L.A. Is going through a ridiculous heat wave and it was ninety degrees when we went to bed last night, at midnight.
I couldn’t sleep. It was the heat. It was the writing. It was Lyle deciding to jump on the bed with me.
I said before that Lyle jumps on the bed, but that’s during the day. When I’m reading or taking a nap. He doesn’t hunker down with me at night. Until last night. New behavior.
Lyle has this heavy, slightly-wheezing purr, like a fat man’s breathing—though, as I said, Lyle is in good shape physically. Well, now he is. I hadn’t noticed this purr of his for the first couple of years I had him—he never let me get close enough to hear it, to feel it.
Last night he nestled closer to me. It was almost—not quite—a spooning.
Then he hopped down. And jumped back up—chirping. Down, and up again. Then he hopped over me, then hopped over my girlfriend. Then down. And around, and back up. Chirping. He was restless, I was restless. I was just grateful he had all this energy.
He crawled in close to me again. When he gets close to me like this, touching me but barely, he sinks, like he’s settling into a hot bath.
I petted him. He purred his fat man purr, heavy and chugging.
Then he hopped down. And I got up. To start writing this piece.