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Saturday, April 17, 2021

"My Work Here Is Done"

In late October 2010, I was in the process of separating and ultimately getting a divorce.  Part of that involved moving into an apartment living on my own for the first time in 23 years.  Saying that was a difficult time is an understatement par excellence.  Fortunately, I have smart and compassionate children, one of whom (my oldest) told me that I needed to get a cat to keep me company.  After some thinking about it, I basically decided "why not", so around Thanksgiving 2010 a trek was made to an area shopping mall where we met a friend of my daughter who just happened to have two available kittens.  Once we were there, the two kittens in a cat carrier were presented to me.  They were identical, except for the fact that one was a bit more active than the other.  I picked the less active one.  

From that point forward I would never have to be alone again.  

Fast forward to April 13, 2021, and that kitten became a constant companion for me.  He would say hello to me in the morning, enjoy getting his morning meal, and greet me at the door when I arrived home from work. He was equal parts stubborn and playful.  He had a knack for knowing when I needed company and when I just wanted to be alone.  For whatever reason, he just seemed to like me.

It was on this past Tuesday (April 13th) that Jean-Luc passed away.  The official reason, as given by the veterinarian, was multiple blood clots that impacted his back legs, and lungs.  I'd describe in better detail just what happened, but honestly, it's just too painful.  Over the past 20 years, I lost my father, my mother, and my brother Chris.  All of those were difficult in their own way, and in particular, there isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about Chris.  However, at no time did I shed a single tear at any of their passings.  Was I sad?  Yes, and in the case of Chris, well, the circumstances of his passing were such that there were other emotions at play as well.  In the case of Jean-Luc though I unabashedly balled my eyes out when the time came to say goodbye.  Granted that I am normally too tightly wrapped for such demonstrations of a lack of control, but at that moment I simply couldn't hold back anymore.  

As I sit here over the course of a few days writing this posting, I've come to the conclusion that there is a certain sense of a cycle being completed in Jean-Luc's passing.  When he became my companion back in 2010 my life was anything but settled.  However, the moment he became my roommate is the moment that things started to get better for me.  Fast forward to April of 2021 and my life is anything but unsettled; in fact, his passing happens to coincide with what I think will be my final job change before I end up retiring.  While I miss Jean-Luc tremendously, it is as if his work here on Earth was finally done and it was time for him to move on.  Perhaps he will be reincarnated into another kitten that will come into someone else's life at just the right time.

There have been a few interesting things about Jean-Luc that are worthy of sharing, so in the spirit of celebrating this life, here goes.

The (Official) Name
As my oldest daughter and I were driving over to pick him up, we talked about names for my soon-to-be companion.  My suggestions included "Bill" (it would be cool to have "Bill the Cat") and Fek'lhr (pronounced "Fek-Lar"; read more HERE).  Fortunately, she was a bit more level-headed about things, and the final two choices came down to "Spock" or "Jean-Luc".  The latter prevailed.

The (Unofficial) Names
These included Spud*, Spudster, Buddy, JLA (Jean-Luc Albert), Friend, Special Friend, Good Boy, Handsome Boy, and Potatoe.  That last name was christened by my stepsons as a kind of derivative of Spud.  
(*) When he was little he was just a little Spud.

The (Good) Behavior
In his younger days, Jean-Luc enjoyed playing fetch.  Seriously, I would throw some small object and he would chase after it, find it, and bring it back to me.  We could do this for about a half-hour before he (or was that me?) became bored with it.

Jean-Luc loved my mother.  In fact, there were really only two people whose lap he would willingly sit on, mine and my mother's.  To this very day, I am not exactly sure why.

Jean-Luc knew instinctively when I wasn't feeling well.  All I had to do is lay down and he would appear, take station less than a foot away from my head, and keep me company.

The (Maybe Not So Good) Behavior
A few years ago in the morning, Ms. Rivers and I were doing something upstairs and needed Jean-Luc to get off of our bed, where he was napping.  We coaxed and asked, to no avail.  Just as we started to take more direct measures, he got up, stared right at us, squatted, took a crap on our bed (again, looking right at us), and then just leisurely left.  Point made I guess.

There was also an incident involving a bowl of lettuce around Christmas time, the story of which is legendary with my stepson Robby.

There were times when he just wanted my attention, mostly when I was head's down doing something that, at the time, I thought was important.  His solution?  He would come up to me and take a small nip at me.  As in nowhere near what he could have done, just enough to say "Hey Bozo, I'm down here!".  He would also just randomly swat my leg if I was walking by, looking at me as if saying "Yeah, I did what!".

The Indifferent
Jean-Luc was a water cat.  He loved getting "drippies" from the bathtub spigot.  He would lap up drips and wipe the water over his head as if he were taking a shower.

I could go on, and to be honest, in my head over the past few days I already have, time and time again.

In the end, thoughts about the after-life and things like that are a bit above my paygrade.  Ms. Rivers tells me that I'll see Jean-Luc again in the next life.  That's a nice thought.  Right now, well, I just miss the hell out of the little guy.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

That Changes in the Yard

I love yard work.  This means I also love Spring.

Part of this springs (pun intended) from having grown up in a housing project where I learned to associate planting flowers, etc., as being a sign of affluence.  A bigger part though is more deeply ingrained in the machinery running inside my head.  More specifically, most of the time my mind is like Times Square in New York City, pre-pandemic:  Things going in all different directions, lots of flashing lights vying for attention, and so very much noise.  It is, in a word, tiring.  While I can physically relax (and probably do so too much these days), actually mentally relaxing is far more difficult.

That changes in the yard.

The grass needs to be my mind focuses on getting out the mower, making sure it has gas, cleaning it off a bit, and actually cutting the grass.  The grass was too high before I cut it, and now it is just right.  I've spent effort and gotten a result.

Time to trim the trees...the dwarf plum in the front needs a bit of shaping, so I break out the tools and get to work.  It looks really nice afterward.  Making sure that the old maple in the back is free from dead branches that might fall onto the garage.  Time to get out the pole saw.

I could go on with about four more examples, but they all revolve around the same story, namely that for whatever combination of reasons, being outside and working in the yard gives me the ability to (figuratively & temporarily) move from Times Square to a quiet meadow.  There's a certain clarity to the yard that I don't get at, for example, work...the goals are easy to understand, there are no ulterior motives and the results are easy to see.  There's also certain predictability to the yard; for example, the lilac's bloom in late April/early May.

This is not just about immediate gratification by the way.  In the yard this year I am hoping for two fully blooming honeysuckle plants (which I spent countless hours on last year planting, trimming, and fertilizing).  I also have plans to remove a rather ratty-looking ground cover plant in the front, but the replacement is still under consideration.   Maybe put in a light pole and clematis?

I'm sure this kind of thing is not unique to me, and perhaps we all need times and places where we can be free from the noise.  Mine just happens to be the yard.  For others, maybe it's sailing.