Monday, May 12, 2008

For One More Day

Memories are intangible and ethereal, but memories will remain the only entity we can effectively hold on to after life, after death, and in life after death.

For One More Day With My Girl

September 1991 was a season of despair and destitute. Mother’s illness had once again relapsed, not that she ever recovered from the previous relapsed at all. Disease progression is perhaps a more apt term, but it implies a step forward when in fact the person has suffered yet another setback in life. Mother was already bed-ridden by now after four years of multiple sclerosis and frequent focal seizures. She was losing the use of her right arm as well. While previously she was still able to read the newspapers independently, she now required help turning the pages of paper and the cover of a plastic container.

It was a weather that matched my emotions when I found my Girl that rainy, gloomy Saturday evening. I was a little kid cycling rigorously on my way to church.

The high-pitched cries of an unwanted kitten broke through the forceful whistling winds that fateful evening. An arrogant storm was about to make its way into the neighbourhood and had appointed the winds to be its loyal messenger. Girl was perched at the top of a typical smoldering rubbish pile one can find all over the city. She was tiny, so tiny that despite her shrieks for attention, it took some time before I finally noticed her. Her umbilical cord was still attached, mostly dried and ready to fall of anytime. She could not have been more than a week old.

To whoever that left her in the center of burning garbage, she was herself regarded as trash and merely one of the many litters of kittens abandoned and left for dead all over the country every hour of the day.

To me, she was an angel manifested in a very eccentric form, or at least that was what she turned out to be eventually.

Father was the least happy to receive her presence at home. He never welcomed anything we brought back anyway, but somehow he’ll end up warming up to them and being a responsible caretaker.

Like a human kid, Girl grew up fast, so fast sometimes I wonder where all the years went.

She was feeding from a milk bottle one month and chomping down fried fish the next. She was a curious innocent feline amazed by all and sundry, exploring all nooks and corners as though they held priceless treasures with handsome rewards. She was pretty and flirtatious and an instant hit with the neighbourhood tabbies. She caught lizards and cockroaches, birds and beetles, but the idea of catching a rodent somehow never appealed to her. She basked in the sunshine and camouflaged in the dark, waiting stealthily to pounce on any passing human feet. She was gentle and neurotic, nosy and nonchalant, hungry and fussy. It made her all the more extraordinary and vibrant.

In silent observation and hushed understanding, my Girl bore witness to all that the family went through.

Through it all, she was there.

She was there when her teenage father started grappling with peer pressure. While I was bothered myself trying to buy that Converse skateboard shoes and a torn blue jeans to match, Girl kept her calm, patiently waiting for the day I’d returned to her again.

She was there when Mother passed away and hung around throughout the final rites and funeral service. While all of the family was downstairs hanging to each other for strength and comfort, she grieved alone in my sister’s bedroom. Lying whole day in silent contemplation she appeared briefly for a quick snack, said hi and withdrew to her little corner till I was ready to share some time with her. A silent companion is sometimes the best counselor in times of loss and mourning. My Girl rose to the occasion and fitted perfectly well into that role.

She was there when I stacked up my STPM textbooks and wondered worriedly how I would ever be able to score straight As. I closed my eyes those long dreary nights and mumbled an impromptu, unrehearsed prayer to heaven. I opened my eyes and more often than note, Girl was there with a smug kitty look upon her face. Much to my disgust and irritation back then, Girl emulated what other cats have practiced for centuries and generations – she leaped onto my table and nested upon my books at the first opportunity. It was usually when I was just beginning my start of a very long night. She was demanding her share of my attention after Brother had received his. I would like to lie and claimed that I welcomed her with open arms each time she pulled that stunt but the truth is there were just too many times when I chased her away and vented my anger at her. If I had known then what I do now, I would have reacted very differently.

She was there on the day I came home with my STPM results and when the acceptance letter from University Malaya arrived. I gave her a warm, strangling hug, and picked up a day of rhinitis in return. I d moved on in life soon after. On semester breaks and long holiday weekends, I returned home whenever possible to find my Girl curled up like a yarn ball on my sister’s bed in a state of surreal tranquility and a tinge of pensive contemplation. We spent those balmy lazy days lying idly next to each other, saying little but in full comprehension of our unspoken thoughts and appreciation of the times that have been.

We had come a long way since the days of torn jeans, dyed hair and stupid skateboard sneakers. We had passed that period of peer pressure and adverse circumstances. My Girl and I had reached a more secure chapter of life where we can just enjoy each other’s company, if only for a moment. I groomed her shiny coat and rubbed her rounded contented belly. I smile to myself at the thought of how far we had come in life, thanking her for placing her trust and belief in me all those years I was wandering in search of acceptance and friendship. I was totally oblivious to the fact that I already had a faithful companion in my life all those times.

I detected the lump in Girl’s belly during one of those fine, happy moments. I gazed into her green, idyllic crystal eyes and found myself in a state of disbelief and denial. It was as if she had known it all along. Girl looked away in an apparent attempt to avoid any further discussion of the cancer growing within her. She inched her way from me and headed for my sister’s bedroom again. The sun upon her cast a forlorn figure as she shied away for the rest of the afternoon.

Visits to the vet did not help. As sure as I was that Girl had a malignant growth waiting to make its presence felt, there was nothing a medical student could do to convince the so-called professionals of the suspected diagnosis.

I returned to university for my final examinations. It was the final hurdle in a medical student’s life but not necessarily the most important in one’s lifetime. Father’s call came at 8.00 pm that January 10th. Girl had fallen really ill and had become worse despite all the veterinarian’s medications.

I rushed back at 140 km/hr, reaching home to find my Girl too weak to cry but not too ill to recognize. She was a pale picture of the bouncy bundle of energy she used to be. It was too late to heal but not to late to love. I held her frail body close to mine and in between tears and sobs whispered words of affirmation and promises of a reunion. There was no sparkle in her eyes that night, no flamboyant wagging tail, no pompous display of a cat’s beauty.

Yet at that point, in that moment, her immense beauty was embalmed in loving memory forevermore.

Girl died at 4 a.m. Cradled in my arms like the baby she once was, it took a while to digest the fact that I had spent fourteen years with her. A sense of loss and grief set in slowly, as real and as strong as the day I lost my mother. Only this time, I was grieving alone as the rest of the world passed by making snide remarks over what they deemed an unjustified reaction to the loss of a cat.

People will always be people. To them, Girl was a cat. Period.

To me, Girl was a cat that was given a shot at life and entrusted with the task of teaching a young boy how to live his.

Through it all, she waited. She waited for me to play rope and strings with her, and I’ve always wondered whether I was entertaining her or the other way around. She waited for me to grow up and understand that life really wasn’t that complicated. She waited for me to be done with my seemingly endlessly hectic life and to realize that the sweetest moments in life are not necessarily times when we conquered the world. She waited for me to see beauty in the sight of two friends lying close to each other. She waited for the day I’d discover pleasure in the rough licks of a feline’s tongue. And yes, she waited for me to return in time to send her off on an eternal voyage.

For one more day and one more hour, there is nothing I wouldn’t give up. Just one more game and one more stroke of her back, one more meow and one more hiss, one more claw and one more bite, just one more day of cat fur rhinitis.


We take life for granted. We take the people around us for granted, thinking that they’ll be around for eternity. We take our parents for granted, assuming they’ll never grow old and age with time. We take our spouses for granted, preferring to work and earn and waiting for that elusive day to finally enjoy the fruits of our labor. We think family sticks around and will be around forever and ever, until the day sickness and mishaps seize them from us. We take our animal friends for granted, making them wait for a time as when it is convenient for us to pat, feed and talk to them.

Grief is a potent human emotion. Grief does not permit anyone to pass by without changing a part of the person. Despite the vain attempt of psychoanalysts to categorise and stage grief, it remains a complex passage in anyone’s life that one emerges seeing the world in a different light and angle. Humans grieve and so do animals. Humans grieve over animals and vice versa.

Some people say I should forget and move on. Can’t I move on without forgetting? I refuse to forget and insist on moving on at the same time. We don’t live in an oasis with eternal sunshine of a spotless mind.

Memories are intangible and ethereal, but memories will remain the only entity we can effectively hold on to after life, after death, and in life after death.


pilocarpine said...

one more day, is just what we need...
live one more day...
breath one more day...

CK said...

every day on the good is a good one.
let's live it to the fullest.

sojourner said...

i cried...again. a very touching post. have you read for one more day? i do recommend 5 ppl you meet in heaven by mitch albom as well. although Girl has long gone back to be with the Maker, i'm glad that you've found her as a wonderful companion in her and your lifetime.