Thursday, April 6, 2017

Raising a Farewell Glass in Honor of a Beloved Cat

Max, 2004-2017.

I know this is a beer blog, and over the years I feel like I've done a good job sticking to beer. But if readers will allow this indulgence, there is something I need to say about the loss of one of my best friends, my cat Max. He frequently contributed to this blog, though no one would know it because I usually deleted what he typed.

Below is a farewell which I read to him during his final time with me. I'm publishing it for a few reasons. One, because grief makes you do strange things. Two, because I wanted more people to know about this very special cat and what he meant to me. And finally, because, I don't know, maybe others who have gone through this same miserable experience can take something from it.

I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam A.H.H.”

I love you, Max, with my whole heart. And I will not ever forget you, no matter how many more days beyond yours that our Maker apportions to me. You’ve been a loyal and loving “child,” friend, companion, and confidant from the moment you and your brother, Sam, chose to adopt me in 2005, on that stressful day when I was moving into a new apartment and Hurricane Katrina was devastating my favorite city. How the two of you decided on a 34-year-old bachelor who had never lived with cats – and knew not a damn thing about how to care for them – is an enduring mystery, as is the identity of the soulless villain who put convenience ahead of consideration when he discarded you like so much refuse by the side of the road.

I remember it took me almost three weeks to name you boys. Initially I wanted to give you literary names (I was working for Borders at the time, after all). If comic books count as literature, then I can say mission accomplished. But even if they don’t, I knew, as soon as the idea popped into my head to name you after Steve Purcell’s quirky, anthropomorphic animal detectives, that this was exactly right. And there wasn’t a moment’s doubt as to which one you would be: Max, the more fearless, energetic, and adventuresome of the pair. The name has always suited you, and while I’ve heard “Max” is actually a common name given to cats, there is no chance a single one of the others could have ever out-Maxed you. You are the archetype, the Platonic ideal, the embodiment of all that is Max.

What I don’t remember is just when the bond formed. It seems now looking back over our years together that it was always there. As if it sprang forth, like Athena from the head of Zeus, fully realized at its inception, a mutual force as powerful as gravity and as elemental as electricity. And like many other things real yet unseen (and unseeable) in our universe, it defies easy description or even understanding. But you know as well as I do of which I speak, no matter that those not blessed enough to have experienced it may only look on with furrowed brows or, if they’re of a more mocking temperament, mirthful smirks. Such are the manifestations only of simple ignorance.

Where do I begin? You’ve been my shadow, always there whenever I looked down, trotting behind to affectionately rub against my legs, to “help” with whatever I was doing, or to just stand guard against potential interlopers. You’ve been with me during my loneliest hours and my happiest times and all the moments in between, your steadfast affection inevitably making my sadness less sad or my joy more joyful. For twelve and a half years, I knew that charge of excitement as I anticipated coming home to be greeted by you and Sam, whether from a weeks-long trip to another continent or just a night out on the town. The animated love-ins that ensued when I walked through the door were ever as much of a highlight as anywhere I went or anything I did.

None of this is to say that things have always gone entirely smoothly between us. To cite the obvious, you’ve often been inclined – as you are even while I’m typing this – to walk across my keyboard at the same time I was attempting to use it to accomplish something, such as work to pay our rent, write a book on local beer history, or lamely assuage a grief as intense as any I’ve experienced in nearly 46 years on God’s earth. Sometimes your insistence in making yourself the focus of my attention resulted in my yelling at you, a wretched reaction I always instantly regretted when I saw that slightly confused, slightly hurt look from you. How, you wondered, could there be anything else that mattered more at any given moment than us? Cats are often thought of as being wise, and now, with the benefit of sad experience, I see exactly why.

I could name numerous other examples of when you confounded or exasperated me. Whenever you managed to maneuver yourself in our bed such that you took up way more space than a small animal should. When you decided that pawing my arm incessantly at five in the morning was a good idea. All the times you tripped me by quietly sneaking up to insert yourself between my legs. When you made it impossible for me to fold the laundry or make the bed. Your need to always know what I was trying to eat, even if there was no chance you’d actually want it. So many other things.

For a while now in the back of my mind I’ve been aware there would come a time when I would trade almost anything just to again uncomfortably contort my body around yours in bed, to be awakened by your early-morning pawing, to turn my feet to move only to feel myself bump into you, to give up folding clothes or tucking in sheets until you were distracted with something else, to have you stick your snout in my dinner plate, to have you interrupt my work by jumping on my desk or stretching up to insistently nose me on the elbow.

But I thought that time was years away yet. (Though, if I’m being honest, I know damn well that no matter when it came, I would not be ready.) Some parrots can live 75 years or more and, while intending no slight to parrots or people who take them as pets, I ask why did God choose to bestow that kind of longevity on some species of bird, yet give such short shrift to our feline companions? Even more to the point, why take before his time a beautiful cat who, not even three weeks ago, remained so exuberant, so full of life, so happy, so loving?

It’s been hard to watch you this past week, obviously not yourself, hiding under beds or in closets, seeking places to disappear, when never in your life were you the kind of cat who wanted anything less than to be the center of attention. To see you wander listlessly through our house, as if you only dimly remembered the things that have been the very fabric of your life: eating treats, gumming your scent onto me (and everything else you “owned”), rubbing up against my legs, jumping on me and settling into my lap, your back claws shredding my thighs.

Yet you’ve also continued to show flashes of the Max I’ve known all these years. You’ve still had grooming sessions with your brother. You’ve still (until last night) slept by my feet in bed, even coming up to nestle in that familiar place in my arm for morning cuddles and purrs. And you’ve still managed to surprise me with your love of going outside by darting out the door when I went to check the mail. These things are all very Max, and I will miss them more than I can say.

And now as I write these words, on your last day, I’m thinking of just how many things I’m going to miss and how badly. They are legion. How you liked to bite my elbow after you rubbed your scent all over it, as if to emphasize how much I belonged to you. How you’d tear around the apartment (even the really small one we lived in for a few years) in the evening, growling ferociously. That excited little mew you would let out when you jumped on me or when you knew you were going to go outside. The way you always curled up with your brother to sleep. How you never tired of head-butting my shins. How you’d closely watch my feet to see which direction I was going so you could follow me. How you’d crawl under the covers to spoon with me, and when you’d reach your paw out and stick it in my nose as we cuddled away a lazy Sunday morning together. Again the list is endless.

I don’t know how long it will be before I stop looking down to make sure I don’t trip over you, before I stop expecting to see you around every corner, before I stop anticipating you running past me down the stairs or out the door. Maybe some part of me will never really believe you’re gone.

Nor will your loss be felt heavily only by me. Your brother will acutely miss his lifelong playmate, grooming partner, and sleep buddy. He always followed your lead, such as when you discovered you could get on to the roof of the first house we lived in. By himself, I am not sure Sam would have climbed up there, but seeing you do it made it inevitable he would come up to join you. You two have shared everything, and now he will suffer the loneliness of having it all to himself – at least all except my love, which he will continue to share with you, always.

How can I help it? The two of you put the lie to every negative stereotype about cats. That you’re aloof. That you disdain the company of people. That you don’t heed your humans. All rubbish, as anyone who spent any amount of time with you discovered. In fact, I suspect over the years your endearing personality won over more than a few haters, even if they dared not admit it out loud.

Soon, you’ll be gone, and with you, a large part of me. I’m sorry for the pain and discomfort you’ve suffered these last few weeks. I’m sorry I did not find the tumor under your arm – or take you to a vet to find it – back when it might have been possible to do something about it. I’m sorry for all the times I ever got mad at you, even if I always immediately apologized and you immediately forgave. Mostly I’m sorry for the many more years together that we never got to have.

But I’m oh so grateful for the ones that we did. Thank you for choosing me. Otherwise I never would have known one of the greatest friendships of my life. Goodbye, my little buddy. Goodbye, my beautiful boy. Goodbye, my Max.


As I began writing this at my desk, March 31, 2017, Max wished to add his own thoughts. They are included below, typed by paw and haunch. I can only say: me, too, buddy, me, too. More than you ever could have known.

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Max’s light was extinguished April 5, 2017. On the same day, the lamp on the electric fireplace he spent so many happy hours in front of also burnt out.


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