(AUTHOR’S NOTE: I never wanted to write the following. But I need to. And please forgive the personal diversion. It’s my start to moving on. UPDATE: Answers for Actors will return on subject 11/07/11.)
Yesterday (Saturday, October 30, 2010) I lay in my bed as I am now. Writing. My cat Dorie was curled up at my feet. My partner was sleeping in the living room (he’s been sick). Neither I nor my partner had gotten up from where we had slept.
I had just highlighted the following passage (below) from a new manuscript and was about to delete it. It mirrors an actual incident from my past and my partner’s care of a long ago family member named PJ.:
“Seriously,” Esterwishana began, “I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll say it again. You could get a pet.”
“No,” Michael firmly responded.
“Number one twenty-six?” shouted the small girl at the end of the hallway.
“Learn responsibility,” Esterwishana continued. “Start small. Work your way up.”
“No. No pets,” he insisted. “No pets, no parakeets or other… things… living, breathing or, or… eating that need assistance to be fed and watered on a daily basis. I’ve been down that road before. I tried responsibility and I was damned good at it. For awhile.” He paused. “But who knew birds needed daily feeding and watering? Mea culpa. I‘m sorry. I missed a week. Whatever happened to the expression ‘eats like a bird?!’ No more pets. No more. A boyfriend is way less maintenance.”
“Uh huh,” Esterwishana wasn’t buying this.
When my partner had discovered a decade ago PJ (our parakeet) lying dead at the bottom of the cage I heard him screaming his name. I was writing back then just as I was yesterday when I heard my partner scream our cat’s name, “Tyler!” repeatedly. In a horrific, panicked cry that continues to haunt me.
I jumped out of bed. Ran out of the bedroom and into the hallway. There was my partner. He was standing over Tyler. My best friend lay still on the floor. He looked as if he were sleeping. But I knew better. And hoped that truth was a lie.
As my partner was screaming Tyler’s name I went to Tyler. He was stiff and I said that the young, six-year old kitty who slept on my chest nightly and greeted me routinely at the door had been there for awhile. Emotion had yet to grab me. That occurred when I thought to run for our pet sitter who lives next door. Fighting convulsions that forced me to the floor, my colder Virgo thankfully took hold of me and I gathered my partner who was holding Tyler.
We rushed him to the animal hospital. I sped. Dangerously passing cars on small suburban streets. Ignoring the people on sidewalks who were waving their hands at us to slow down. You don’t understand, I thought. My best friend needs help.
Running into the hospital I raced past the reception desk and went straight for the first doctor I could find. I think I said something about needing immediate attention. My partner was behind me. He was cradling Tyler in a blanket. We were taken into an examination room. I stood outside looking in. I couldn’t make myself go in. Tyler was laid upon a cold, metal table. The veterinarian put his stethoscope upon Tyler’s chest. No heartbeat. Tyler was gone. I fell to the floor in sobs.
You may be thinking, Paul it’s just a cat. Well then this is where you only know my public persona. Those who know me intimately — privately — understand that Tyler and I had been inseparable for the past six years. He choose me.
Six years ago as my partner and I were at the local animal shelter seeking a new member to the family we were looking at cats in cages at eye level. From below something kept grabbing my hand. It was this little kitty who kept looking up at me. He was to become my Tyler. The volunteers found him on a Sunday wandering the streets of our town. They rescued him. Named him Sunday. He was so sociable and purred louder than an outboard motor whenever near people that the volunteers jockeyed for turns to take him home at night. There were many tearful goodbyes when Sunday decided that he wanted us to take him home permanently. The volunteers repeatedly mentioned that they had never before encountered a cat that was so childlike and innocent. He never hissed. Never bit in anger. Never scratched. His favorite activity was to nuzzle under someone’s chin.
I sit here now, in bed, alone. Without my Tyler. I keep fighting to see the laptop screen through the blur of my tears. I’ve cried so much and for so long that I exhausted all tissue, paper towels and toilet paper…
Answers for Actors readers may recall Tyler. He made an appearance in a summer video. I now curse myself for deleting last week all the outtakes from that session. I’d have more ‘live’ memories of Tyler. He was perfection every take. It was his friend, me, who kept screwing up.
I’ve lost my best friend who made it a point to greet me at the front door every time. Even if I was gone for only minutes. He’d run to the entry and throw himself down on the front hallway carpet. He’d offer his belly. Look up at me and in his eyes I could see he was saying, “Welcome home dad. Now rub my belly, please. I missed you.”
I’ve lost the friend who insisted on sitting on the dashboard of my car as I drove back and forth to the Barter Theatre. He loved our trips down South. And the Barter loved him.
I’ve lost my best friend who the folks at the Barter called ‘the walking cat’. Tyler loved to be put on a leash and walked. We spent many days strolling the grounds of the Barter. Through The Shakespeare Garden and occasionally sneaking into the production building. The women in the costume shop loved his visits. One of them asked if he could stay permanently. I think Tyler wouldn’t have minded.
I’ve lost my best friend who greeted every take-out and package delivery person who came to our door. He’d rub against their legs, look up at them and in his eyes you could see he was asking, “Stay around will ya?”
I’ve lost my best friend who never wanted to leave when my private student Jay B. came to my home office to work on his career. Tyler’s devotion to staying around Jay got so intense that Tyler would run and hide when he knew I was about to end his welcome greeting time with Jay.
I’ve lost my best friend who would be fascinated by the squirrels, birds and bugs outside of the apartment window.
I’ve lost my best friend who knew where rubber bands were hidden (no matter how often the hiding place was changed). He loved chewing on them. I was always deeply mortified.
I’ve lost my best friend who felt his stuffed animal collection were not enough for play as he would pillage my collection of teddy bears. Whether from his or mine collection he toss them up in the air. Watch them fall to the floor. And repeat this often. Just last week I found his favorite tiger had landed on top of the living room table.
I’ve lost my best friend who I would play ball with. I got him a circular toy that had a plastic ball in it. The ball could be battered about. I’d be on one side of the circle and hit the ball to him. He’d return it back to me. We never got tired or bored of the game.
I’ve lost my best friend who stared at me constantly. Whether I was working. Watching TV or sleeping.
I’ve lost my best friend who somehow magically knew how to open closed doors.
I’ve lost my best friend who would stand and supervise as I would vacuum the apartment. It was his territory after all.
I’ve lost my best friend who when I would wink at him, he’d wink back (it was a trick that he learned in a day).
I’ve lost my best friend who curled up with me on the couch. His back to my chest. His head under my chin. And we’d fall sleep together. Hours later upon wakening; there was my best friend Tyler, still asleep in my arms.
I look at Dorie now curled up at my feet, I fear for her happiness. She and Tyler were not brother and sister by birth but brother and sister by deep friendship. They’d ‘hunt’ each other as they played chase around the apartment. Tyler loved playing chase. I did it with him many, many times. Now who will I play chase with? Tyler understood the game. Dorie never did when I tried it with her.
I don’t know if Dorie realizes Tyler is gone for good. She must have discovered his body. She was awake before me. I look at her wondering what she knows. What she thought. I also foolishly in my sobbing at the vet’s office asked why she didn’t tell us Tyler was in trouble on the floor. Motionless. Lying there as I sat here in bed writing.
I hate walking past that unavoidable spot in the hallway, just outside of the kitchen. Last night when I couldn’t sleep. When there was no Tyler upon my chest purring — as was he thought his responsibility to protect and bid me a good rest — I went to that spot in the hallway where he was found. I looked at it, seeking an answer. Why? How?
We don’t know. There was nothing in his mouth. He appeared to be in good health. He and Dorie were playing chase the night before. But he didn’t come to say good night to me. How I dread the nights to come without my best friend. How I hate what I know will be constant reminders. My coming home and no Tyler running to greet me. No Tyler watching me as I sit at my desk working. And now I just thought of one more reminder. The shower to which I must go into because yesterday it was overlooked in all the turmoil.
Tyler would follow me into the bathroom. He’d jump up on the closed toilet seat. I’d undress and turn on the shower head. As was his ritual, when I’d turn to go into the shower, Tyler would slap my bare ass with his paw and then give me a love bite on one cheek. It was his way of saying, “You may be going in there to wash off but I’m leaving a mark to show that you’re still mine.”
Oh God, I just can’t… say…