Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Zami is Home

There is a small box on our table. It’s comical almost, just how small it is. I even pulled the bag of ash out and rolled it between my fingers. It’s the smallest of the three cats to come back.

I thought of the fire and the heat and how much of my moisture it took from me in seconds. And how we harnessed the power of fire to put our loved ones to rest, and how it sucked the moisture from her corpse. My beloved cat and I fed the same elemental the oxygen hidden in our water.

She was such a large presence.

Now, nothing.

For a twenty-two year old cat who slept twenty-three hours a day, her absence is deafening. I have sunk into the busy work of rearranging the spaces in the house to reclaim them from her ghost.

She was ready to leave us. We weren’t ready for her to go. It’s Samhain and time to release her. My grief is not her burden.

I cleaned out the window seat where Zami lived. I vacuumed Zami’s dander and dust and hair and whiskers up. I fought the urge to keep the-bits-of-her-that-were-not-ash. Okay, I kept the whiskers. I have whiskers from all our cats in a jar. Ones they shed naturally. Because magic is real and sometimes I need to weave stealth into my wardrobe.

I saved her whiskers, her tools of Sensing.

I spent the rest of the morning fixing the first afghan I ever made- it’s still the only one for myself I ever finished. It’s been Zami’s treasure in her old age, full of holes from where she clawed it. I fixed the holes. Mara, our tiny tuxedo, kept trying to climb on top of it while I was doing so.

The afghan is made up of a bunch of remnant yarn balls. It was so hard to make too, because yarn was always Zami’s kryptonite. She used to lay in wait until I pulled more yarn loose and she would fly out of nowhere and grab it in her mouth and keep running. Or she would sit in the open and watch the yarn. Back and forth between my fingers. And just glaze over until it got creepy.

It’s amazing the things we miss about those we love after they are no longer with us. 

I can hold the box but I am not holding her. It is what remains of her body but it is not her body. But I will hold the box in my hands until I no longer need it as a crutch. I will hold the twenty year-long memories of her in my heart. 

To those cats who come after, I will tell them stories of her multiple feats and extreme acrobatics. I will tell them how there wasn't a closed door she couldn't get into. I will tell them how terrified she was of kittens and how she hid behind the old bread box on top of the kitchen cupboards without disturbing anything. Or how she used the counter in our first apartment as a launching pad to twist in mid-air and grab a feather off the ceiling... over and over again.

I hold the box in my hand but her stories are where she lives now.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Raw Grief

I got to hold Luna and Bella in my arms.

I held their gazes while they died. It cut me, deeply, but I wanted more than anything for them to see how much I loved them in that last moment. It was painful to watch the light dim. It does. One micro-second the engine is on and the lights are working and the next all goes dark.

And they were gone, into the ether. I watched. I witnessed. I saw it happen.

I said goodbye.

Zami'd been not-herself for a while. She doesn't... didn't remember me much and often stared at me like I was a stranger in her home. Over the last three years we became aloof. It hurt but I understood it wasn't personal. My heart broke every time friends came over and Zami woke herself up to be sociable and get love from everyone. Everyone else. Not me.

I lived for the moments when Zami would stalk into my office and cry at me. I would look at her and she would see me. Me. And it was Zami, my cat, wondering why everything was different. I never knew where she was in her fugue but she saw me. I would drop everything to talk to her and get love from her. And hold her and she would tuck her head into my elbow crook and I would sit like that forever. In her case, forever usually lasted less than seven minutes.

But those seven minutes here and there were everything to me.

She was our night prowler, our sentinel. It was just like her to wait till we were gone.

I resent her for that just now.


We have one of those cheap fridges where every time the door slams closed the freezer door burps open. And every time it burps open I remember that she's in there, in a sealed garbage bag, in the freezer. And a madness at the bottom right of my skull tries to squiggle in. And I erase it. But now I know it's there. Even if I supress it I know it exists. Waiting.

I cannot unknow the mad, sharp broken window of death.


We had a plan with our cat care people. Every time we went away for the night we took turns saying goodbye to her. This last time I was running late. I was scatterbrained. I was clutching my final five lists and reassuring myself that if I didn't have it I wouldn't need it. Which was true.

What is also true is that I forgot about her. I forgot to say goodbye. I forgot to tell her how much I loved her and how special she was to us and how it was okay if she was done now. I know she knew it. But all I keep feeling is this wave crushing my chest cavity reminding that I forgot about her.


It matters, somehow, that we came home to an empty body, void of spirit. Just a thing that tried to mimic our beloved, tried and failed. I had to close my eyes to touch her. And then I felt her. Just a whisper left above the surface. But I found her.


We are waiting for her ashes to come home. This year we will have three cat spirits ate our table for Dumb Supper, the only time they are allowed up there.

I am waiting to clean out her window seat. She was a bully. She had shared it with Luna and Bella but when Mara came along she said, "nuh uh." I want to clean it all out and open it for a while to encourage Mara to claim time at the front window. But I am waiting until it feels right.

I caught Mara sitting on the floor in front of the front door, looking out the window. That's how she watched when Zami was up there. I thought she got it. Maybe she does. Maybe she doesn't. So I'll wait a little longer, until I can bear to open it up and see for myself that she's not there.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Farewell Zami

            We came home from a weekend retreat to find a reality we have tried to prepare ourselves for had come true. Our twenty-two year old cat had passed. Part of my heart constricted. I couldn’t breathe. I don’t know how we unloaded the car.
We just did.   
On a snowy afternoon in January 1999, Kelley and I made our way to adopt a cat in Fredonia, NY. I had had a dream the night before about an all grey cat, so I thought we knew what to look for. But in the kennel with all the grey cats was a grey tiger with Bengal markings. She met me at the door and, when I picked her up, she tucked her head into the crook of my arm—and the purring! I tried to meet some of the other cats but, each time, she got there first and it was her head beneath my hand. I called Kelley over, repeat. We took her home.
They didn’t know much about her. When the caretaker came out to feed the cat he found Zami waiting outside the barn door, waiting to be let in.
            When we got her, she came with a free spaying. The vet said she was at least two years old. When I called the next day to check on her, they told us that it was going to cost a bit extra for the abortion. I panicked. I knew what a pregnant cat looked like and it floored me. She had been pregnant, though she was so malnourished and skinny even the humane employees had not suspected. For reasons. She had a litter of five kittens. All but one was dead and three were being reabsorbed by her uterus for food. But it would have killed her in the end. Because we picked her, because we took her home, she had a fighting chance.
She was never sick again.
Zami was a great cat. So thankful to be indoors and have snuggles. So grateful for a dry space with couches and cushions. Over the years she has made many friends. It was hard not to love her, even when she kneaded your kneecap in her joy. With her claws. It was her speciality.
            I barely remember an ‘us’ without her.
            She’s gone now.
Best buds, Luna and Zami
            Her name was inspired by Audre Lorde’s biomythography of the same name. It means “female husband” and we knew when we went looking for her, we wanted more than just a pet. Zami was never our kid. She was more like a third partner, one who greatly disapproved of our choice to bring other kittens into the house. When we brought tiny Luna into the house, Zami hid under Kelley’s altar for weeks. The kitten was undeterred and Luna became her greatest friend and companion. Zami never recovered from her loss.
When Bella came into the house Zami was like, “Another one?!” She tried to ignore the tiny presence, but the tortoise shell never went away. Zami spent some time hiding on top of the kitchen cupboards until Bella got bigger. They became unwilling siblings and there were so many moments we would walk in on the two of them, after Luna died, almost-touching and Bella would look at us with big eyes, asking us not to fuck it up, and we would back slowly out of the room to give them that space.
(front to back) Bella, Zami,and Luna on Christmas morning 2008
            Zami never really recovered from losing both of them. She and Mara never really connected, but they tolerated space together. These last few years were hard for Zami. She was old, but otherwise healthy. She walked stiffly around the house and slept on the heating grate in the winter. She slept most of the hours of the day and only got up to pee, drink water, eat, or when one of her friends came to visit.
She loved people. She loved being social. She was a lap whore and she could dead-weight her body in seconds. If you wouldn’t let her in your lap, she would not-make-eye-contact and slink in at a snail’s pace, truly believing that if she didn’t look at you, you couldn’t see her. She was ¼ Bengal cat with long skinny legs and a long skinny tail. She had serious ninja skills, unfortunate for us. She was a night prowler. It was how she kept us safe. I have so many photos of her but they’re all pre-digital images. That says something to me.
(All this past tense hurts.)
She also had a string of special friends, which speaks to her longevity. She had the loudest and most prolific purr. She could go for hours without stopping. Depending on her level of excitement there were also chirps and coos. Somewhere I have a video of her purr, from before Luna died, because we were already wondering when we might lose her. That video is at least six years old.
She was also a hunter of all things rodent and a consistent closed-door-opener. Keeping her out was never a successful venture. I caught her in the act once, and watched her jump up and wrap her arms so she was hanging from the doorknob. And then she hitched her shoulder up and down, redistributing her weight until the knob twisted and the door clicked open.
I don’t know what happened to her on the streets, but she did not suffer the presence of dogs or male cats. Not for a moment. She would cut-a-bitch so quick. That side of her scared me.
            Her eyes would glaze over and she would be a blur of motion. If I was fast enough I could catch the end of her tail and deter her momentum. Food was always a trigger. She wasn’t interested in people food but if there was cat food anywhere she could smell it and she would do whatever it took to get to it. She had some periods of being a big girl. It’s not uncommon for strays to have food issues. 
She had such a long life. These last few years she developed some form of dementia. She barely recognized me and fixated on my partner as a touchstone in a very creepy, Renfield-like manner. She often got lost staring at a wall and would yowl until we found her and turned her around. She spent most nights isolated in a room with her cat beds and a light on. After that she started sleeping through the nights again. She’s not in pain anymore. She’s with Luna again.
I’m sure that will soothe my heart soon. But not yet.
There was one morning, more than a decade ago, where I was dreaming that I couldn’t breathe. I woke up to a house full of smoke, and Zami head-butting my face and caterwauling at me. I got the small fire out and the windows open thanks to her. It wasn’t the only time she saved me. But I’m thinking about that moment especially right now.
I worked till midnight at a grocery store when we first moved here. One night the phone rang while I was counting out drawers in the back room and instead of my normal can-I-help-you greeting I simply said, “What’s wrong?!”
My partner was hysterical. Zami had leaned against the screen window and the screen had given way and she had fallen out. By the time Kelley got outside, she was gone. Everyone was telling us she would come back. I spent days without sleep. I wandered the streets with cat treats. I made a lot of new cat friends. No Zami.
I put up missing signs. A few days later I received a whispered phone call from someone who said there was a cat matching her description inhaling food on his porch. Where was he? Right across the street!! She’d been there the whole time, right under the porch, listening to me calling for her. I’m certain she thought that since she was outside, she assumed that she had done something wrong. She never wanted to be outside again.
When I ran across the street to scoop her up, my heart was so relieved I cried. She hesitated between running to me and leaving the bowl of food, lol. When I picked her up she put her arms on either side of my neck and hugged me. I cried so hard out of joy.
Today, my bags sit unpacked. My eyelids are puffy and swollen. My heart feels trapped in limbo and I am allowing this floaty feeling to calm my grief. She owned one place in the house, the window seat where she watched the world outside.  On one hand, I am already thinking about cleaning it out so that Mara can have a place all her own, but on the other hand…
Not just yet.
But very soon.
Mara is all right. She doesn’t understand why mommies are so sad, but she feels something is amiss. Zami slept most of the day and spent nights in isolation, per her preference. It may take a couple of days before she understands that Zami isn’t here anymore. So even in the face of death we keep our eyes to the living. It gives us something to focus on other than loss.
Now all of our original kids have passed, an entire generation of our life together is gone. As a pet owner you know to expect it. The reality of it is brutal. Our lives changed in her death, more than we can be aware of at the moment. So we must stand in the doorway, at the gateway of death, and say our goodbyes. And we must open ourselves up to what-is-to-come and allow it room for entrance and purchase.
We had to choose to put Luna and Bella down when they were ill. I wished, more than anything, that when it was her turn to pass, that Zami would slip away quickly. And she did.
            After Bella died, and Zami was the only one left, a stray visited me in the garden. I was still in grief and wanted her to go away. We ended up taking her in. I realized this morning that if I hadn’t opened to love, the house would be completely empty right now. For whatever that's worth.
            Hail to the traveler. Zami has earned her rest.

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