Wednesday, March 17, 2010


It began on Wednesday of last week with a flurry of gigantic snowflakes. They looked like goose feathers. My friend Dawn's mother commented as we watched from the window of The Harlem Flophouse, "I've never seen such big snowflakes." She is 75 and has lived her entire life in Massachusetts near the New Hampshire border.

I had picked up Calliope from the hospital that morning. She was not in good shape. She was weak from being caged. She had a bad cold. She had lymphatic cancer. There was no possibility of a cure. The doctor was recommending euthanasia. She purred gently in my arms. I asked if I could take her home for just one night.

I didn't want to get a cat but my place was filled with mice. An endless stream of them. I was killing 10 a week, catching them in glue traps and drowning them in the toilet. Finally I caved and Calliope, a homeless feline from the East Village, was welcomed into my house. It was like the Taliban had rolled into town. For two days there were headless mice everywhere. Since that time. Not one.

I got used to having a pet. I liked it. She was always around and that means something. She used to like it when I made a fire. She would poke her nose up the chimney in wonderment. Then she would jump onto the couch, grabbing the best spot in anticipation of the warmth that would soon flood the room. She also liked acoustic guitar and would curl up on the couch next to me when I played. She appreciated the calm vibrations of a yoga practice, sprawling out on the floor nearby, tuning into the proceedings. But her favorite thing was to be brushed while she ate. Then she purred like a little tigress.

Like any 10 year relationship it was pock-marked with regrets. The first year of her internship she was waiting by the door when I returned home from my summer travels. "Look at that. She knew I was coming." I marveled aloud. Anna, one of my tenants retorted: "She's been waiting there by the door for you every hour for the last two months." Calliope purred contentedly on my lap and then she bit me and walked off. That's how it was. As the years went by she became less forgiving and more aloof after my absences. Weeks after I returned she would stand outside the room starring at me, keeping just out of reach when I went to pet her. She knew disappointment.

On Thursday as the snow piled up outside she seemed to have bounced back a little. She was sleeping peacefully in her favorite spot, by the radiator on her blanket. I put off her appointment for another day.

Friday morning she was worse. She was lying in her own piss and shit even though her litter box was just a few feet away. She was choking on her own mucus. I scrubbed the dried yellow snot from her face so that she could breath. I decided it was time. It had continued to snow through the night. No car would come for me. I cleaned her up as best I could. I packed her into her carrier and trudged out into the snow. She peered up at me and cried as snowflakes fell around us.
Nothing prepares you for that little back room with the metal table. We all must go there some day. That's guaranteed. I held her down while she cried. In a second it was over. A stream of yellow piss her last expression.

That night I went out. I stayed out and danced until 5am. As dawn approached I made my way to the subway. It had stopped snowing. The sidewalks had been cleared by an enormous civic effort, mountains of snow on either side.

Now the house is filled with empty creaks. I used to attribute all of those shifting boards to her. Or maybe it is her footfall I am hearing on the steps. For 10 years she was always here to greet me. Regardless of my worthiness.