Tribute

wanda

Wanda Watson - July 31, 1991 - November 4, 2010

We laid beloved kitty Wanda to rest two days ago, on Thursday, November 4, 2010, after her short period of collapse — after a long and warm life of nearly 20 years.

Wanda had been my constant companion for over 17 years in 6 of my various 8 San Francisco homes. I can’t imagine living in a home anywhere without her presence, and I still hear her on the stairs and across the floor, see her sleeping in every soft place, and feel her fluffy purring as I lie and try to rest in my new quiet Wandalessness.

When I moved to Landers Street in 1993, I was separating from a relationship of five years. It was a painful and confusing time, and I found my new solo apartment thunderously silent. I went to the SF Animal Shelter and I saw her. Wanda was a young fluffy thing at 1-1/2 years old and had been abandoned by some soulless creature who never had any idea what they were going to miss over the next 17 years. She looked straight at me with her huge yellow eyes, held my gaze, and said “take me home.”

When I took her home she immediately burrowed into the mirrored cabinet corner as if she was seeking her litter. Within a few days she emerged, and began watching over me while I slept, poking my eyes and mouth and nose gently as if to see if this dream was real. After that, I could feel that she never let me out of her radar as long as I was in the house.

wanda and moya on xmas eve

wanda and moya on xmas eve

We moved quickly to a warmer tiny studio apartment on Lloyd Street, which was the home of many legends in our lives. She loved the warm perch with a sunny view, and in the studio she could always be near me. When I was not home, she retreated to a lump under my bed covers, which is the way most of my friends got to know her at first. When I approached home from way down the block, in a car or on foot, she would immediately rouse and hop out onto the fire escape to greet me. I will never cease to be amazed at how she always leapt out for me no matter what time of day or night I approached. When I came through the door, she always greeted me loudly with the Wanda(tm) yowl of cranky-sounding delight.

spike and wanda

spike and wanda

When Leanne and I moved in together on Vicksburg, Wanda first met her step-brother Spike. Spike was by all accounts an incredible, daunting, and epic animal. In many ways, there could not have been two more different beasts. While Wanda retreated during the daytime to hide under the bed or blanket, Spike trotted on the sidewalk, and waited. While Wanda’s feline fantasies struck out in the night in solitary bursts, Spike gathered her up and patiently taught her the intricacies of mousing. Spike spent at least 9 out of 9 lives exercising every bit of maximum animalness, and died early in 2003 at 9 years old, the very second the heart of our girl Lucy started beating. Wanda lived a long warm fairly quiet and very devoted life. In this way, they differed not at all: they were both devoted to us.

Even though Lucy refocused all of our time, Wanda welcomed her into our home. Wanda patiently taught Lucy how to be kind to animals, and gave Lucy a great way to learn about being gentle. She amazed us with her agility, although she was already elderly, with accepting Lucy and tolerating infant and toddler love. In many ways, Wanda really emerged after Lucy was born. She came out to play, greeted guests and total strangers, learned of the presence of several other felines in the Clinton Mews, had many caring visitors and caretakers, and generally a happy existence with us for the past several years.

wanda and lucy

wanda and lucy

Lucy has been the dearest person to Wanda in her last few days, preparing comfortable spots and sharing her sardines. Now Lucy is coping mostly internally, as I know too well, fairly capably with a mostly incomprehensible wound.

I don’t yet know what to do with the few things I kept that I can’t part with. I catch them in the corner of my eye and see Wanda. As we prepare to go out of town for the night, I catch myself walking across to make sure Wanda has enough food and water to take care of herself while we are gone. And when I come back home, there will be no cranky hello. This is going to take quite some time, but I will listen for you, Wanda, until I can realize you are frolicing with brother Spike and all the good company that came before you, letting me know I too can move on to open my heart to the next furry adventure.

free wanda

free wanda

Wanda, thank you, Wanda.  I will miss you every day. Thank you.

spike’s ascent toward sainthood

spike’s ascent toward sainthood

we got a letter from the uc davis vet school last week: “Presidio Way Veterinary Hospital has made a financial donation to the Companion Animal Memorial Fund in memory of Spike.”

aw!

this fund supports research for problems that confront small domestic animals – dogs, cats, birds, exotic pets, and others.

in the past two years we’ve cared for two cats as they died of cancer – first nooka (lymphosarcoma) for several months in 2002 and then spike for just a few weeks in 2003. they both lived long kitty lives. nooka was just with us for the last 4 years of her life and spike’s been with me since he was born in 1992.

i spent time looking through the database of cats (particularly black cats) at the san francisco spca last week – at petharbor.com – and had to close my browser window before i really became a crazy cat gal.

missing spike

while trolling the web today, i found another spike: ‘Spike’ (a movie by Evie Leder).

since he died, he and his personality have been popping up in unexpected venues. moya and i went to see spike lee (the filmmaker, not the cat) on dec 8 when spike lee (the cat) was dying and high on pain drugs. wanda (the cat) seems to be channeling him — she sits in the doorway to our bedroom, guarding it, just the way he used to block the doorway, guarding us, keeping wanda from going anywhere. we were watching some movie on tv (or dvd, i forget) last week and one of the characters talked about spike. and i swear that kinsey sticks mentioned him during oy vey in a manger.

he was a big black longhaired supersoft feisty mr personality who would follow me to the grocery store, wait in the parking lot, howl til i came back out and herd me home.

when i lived on an island, he’d ‘walk’ me to the ferry in the morning and ‘walk’ me home at night.

in san francisco he spent time in kitty jail with animal care and control because someone thought he was lost, stuffed him in a box, and he bit her when she was stuffing him in a box.

if someone was crying, he’d jump on their lap and nuzzle his head under their chin. when he was a kitten he slept across my neck.

he loved attention and would whup whap whup his tail on the floor to let you know he was done with the attention and you should stop with the attention giving or else you’d be in danger (of his claws swiping fresh gashes in your tender flesh).

he used to stay out all night and come home in the morning smelling like cigars and drugstore cologne with comb marks on his back – i think he was playing poker in some backyard.

he had a young kitten boyfriend named romeo who belonged to my neighbors across the street. (i suggested he join kitty nambla)

when i lived with my sister, we had 3 cats: spike, chester and hannah. spike and chester would fight over hannah — both trying to groom her at the same time.

he befriended an orphaned baby racoon and slept in a tree with it.

he would wander around the neighborhood and then sit on our front steps and yowl at people who walked by to get them to ring the doorbell so he could get inside. it took us a while to realize he wasn’t actually ringing the doorbell by himself.

some mornings when i get to the office i look around for him and miss him (he was living at my office for the last 6 months of his life). sometimes missing him feels rather pathetic, other times it’s palpably vulnerably sad, and sometimes i see the crows and pigeons and sparrows and hummingbirds on the deck looking gleeful that their lives are safe again (at least on one deck in hayes valley!).

ON THE DEATH OF A CAT

from today’s new yorker

ON THE DEATH OF A CAT

In life, death
was nothing
to you: I am

willing to wager
my soul that it
simply never occurred

to your nightmareless
mind, while sleep
was everything

(see it raised
to an infinite
power and perfection) — no death

in you then, so now
how even less. Dear stealth
of innocence

licked polished
to an evil
lustre, little

milk fang, whiskered
night
friend —

go.

— Franz Wright
thank you

spike’s highlife

spike’s highlife

if i had to guess what spike’s heaven will be like, i would imagine it would be somewhat similar to these last days. a constant supply high-fat wet catfood served in giant heaps, topped with an icing of high-calorie supplement and served dolloped upon an elevated, chilled platter — just like on a cruise ship, “the food never stops.” soft fleecy blankets next to a radiator always set on “warm” to mask the fact that it has been constantly cold and rainy outside. a pain patch on alternating hind-legs delivering measured doses of narcotics, good for five days at a time. bright flitty hummingbirds the mere window-width away. fluffy giant pigeons plump and preening in the rain. warm, familiar-smelling humans with opposable thumbs waiting at the door to allow him to exit or return should he so desire — while spike watches all of it, the whole thing, from just inside the deluge.

but of course there will be one big difference in spike’s heaven: no nasty tumor.

his trip to the vet saturday for a new pain patch was grim; i had to circle the busy block repeatedly to find parking in the rain, and he looked quite ill by the time we had arrived; he also smelled quite foul and they thought he had released his anal glands. in addition, without the pain patch, he clearly was much more uncomfortable, so leanne thinks we will keep it on until he can’t eat anymore or is clearly suffering. his tumor has apparently grown, and he is drooling constantly now. it is not always bloody. he has smelled a lot worse through this, but leanne gave him a sponge bath today and then combed lavendar essence through his silky black hair; now his tail is fluffy and soft again!

he still climbs up on our laps and crawls under our chins and purrs while we stroke him – only now we have to have a little drool bib on while he does this.

he’s been the only cat – the only being! – i’ve known who will leap up on your lap when you are upset and come purring to comfort.

spike just leapt onto my lap, and i am negotiating typing around him, his chin perched on my left forarm.