February 4th, 2001

Chalkboard

(no subject)

God, things have been so hard lately. I'm a little bit numb right now, numb and depressed, but I've been crying off and on for days. The day before yesterday, the day after I had to put my little rat to sleep, my black standard poodle, Spirit, somehow managed to open the door of the cattery, and fatally wound my cat Berwick.

The cat-house is where we have the oldest kitties who can't get along with the gang here, or who are too sick to mix with the general cat population. Spirit went into the house and attacked my frightened old blind Siamese cat Berwick, a cat I have had and loved for over twelve years. We had been expecting a magazine editor, a woman who I like very much, to come by and take some scouting photos. We had been rushing around and trying to clean up on very short notice. I was just stepping into the shower when I heard the noise of dogs barking and a cat meowing. I never thought it could be one of my cats because they are now all indoor cats. I was worried that my dogs or the neighbor dogs were barking at a treed neighbor cat, or a stray, so I called down to Esther and Noemi and asked them to go check it out.

Esther got there first and saw Spirit biting Berwick and dragging him out of the house, and then she started screaming for me. This is so hard to write. I heard her yelling and just knew it was one of my cats and must be something horrible. I was naked so I just grabbed the first thing on the floor of my closet and ran down the stairs. Esther's little five year old daughter Andrea was running up to tell me that Spirit had killed one of my cats. I started screaming "Who did Spirit kill?" in Spanish, over and over, while running to the back yard. I was filled with irrational rage that no one would answer me.

By the time I got there Berwick was laying on his side in the rose garden, in shock, staring, gasping. I froze for a moment and then I kind of woke up and grabbed him and ran for the car. He had so many bite wounds on his bottom. He was floppy and broken like a raggedy doll. I was worried his spine might have been fractured and I could hurt him worse by lifting him, but I didn't have a choice, I knew I had to get him to the hospital or he would die of shock.

As I got to the car he sort of slightly came out of his shock long enough to realize I was holding him, he hated being held, and that he was in pain, and bit my upper arm in this sad desperate way. We were both so in shock, I was shaking and panicked, I couldn't even feel it really, I just knew it was a bad bite, and he locked on until I pulled his mouth off me. I looked at these big deep open holes that just sort of gaped at me and didn't bleed for a moment and then started to fill. I've been bit before but never that badly. He didn't really know what he was doing. All of this was happening in slow motion but in real time it must have been like minutes and as I was fumbling to get into the car, my friend Sunday, the magazine editor who had been coming over to photograph the house, pulled up.

I rushed to the hospital, barefoot, without underwear or a bra, (but that's nothing really new for me) and ran up the stairs to the clinic yelling, "Help, help, I have an emergency!" They grabbed him from me and ran for the OR, and then we waited, and worried, and I was embarrassed; sitting there with my boobs hanging out in this funky dress, barefoot, blood stains all over the front of me, blood and dirt all over my hands and arms. I kept myself busy cleaning this bite wound; first antibacterial soap, then alcohol which I tried to push down into the holes where his teeth had been, then someone brought me Betadyne. I couldn't cry, I was just in so much shock, my hands were shaking, adrenaline was rushing through me.

People were so kind to us. The woman who cleans up brought us water, (Noemi went with me.) everyone asked us what happened and told me to go to the doctor right away for me arm. I just kept shaking and asking them to tell me how Berwick was. I was so scared. But then when the doctor came in she made me feel better, she told me he was in shock but was stabilizing. That they had him on oxygen and were keeping him warm. They needed to do x-rays. They wouldn't sew up any of his wounds until he was out of danger from the shock. Later after she came back with the x-rays, everything seemed hopeful; he had some bites and cuts and would need antibiotics and stitches but his spine wasn't broken and his lungs weren't punctured. It seemed like a miracle. I was so grateful that his fat little belly had protected him.

I'd been through something like this years ago when Robby's (my ex) dogs had tried to kill my cat Queenie. After years of living together they just attacked her one day in the garden. Each dog had one end of her and they were tearing her apart. We were so poor and the vet wanted a couple thousand dollars, my parents would never help with anything like that, so I grabbed everything I had of any value and went to the pawn shop. I pawned our wedding gifts and anything silver and all my jewelry and my wedding ring. Robby promised to help me pay the loans off and never did. I lost everything. I lost my ring, and he never cared enough to replace it. It was worth it though because I loved Queenie and she healed and lived a few more years.

I could never feel comfortable with the dogs after that. I loved them but I wanted Robby to give them away. Myzar had almost killed a little dog once. I had saved the dog by just reaching right into the middle of the fight and grabbing his mouth and pulling his jaws off of the little dogs ripped open throat. He had missed his jugular vein by a hair. Scarlet would bite people on the ankles if they turned their backs. She was a fear biter. I thought it was because they were Salukis and were particularly aggressive to smaller animals, and had come from abusive situations. We had adopted them from Saluki rescue. I know it's in their nature. I know it's instinct, but I saw them as these cat murderers and I felt responsible for the attack on Queenie. Eventually I forgave the dogs but never let them near the cats again. Then one day this stupid, irresponsible, piece of shit, dog walker, who works the streets of my neighborhood, let two rotweillers get away from her her. They ran down the street towards our property because everyone knows we're the place where the cats are. They attacked Queenie and chased her up to the porch, where they killed her up against the front door.

I have never gotten over this. I wish I had made sure she never got out that day. I feel I owed it to her to prevent her dying that way, after everything she'd been through. I can't get over it, and now this.

When I finally worked up the courage to fire my ex-housekeeper I asked her for her copy of the keys to the house and she refused to turn it over. She and her family are scary people, it's one of the many reasons why I had to let her go. I haven't felt safe here since. I kept thinking she would break in some night, or give the keys to someone else to break in. So the day before Spirit attacked Berwick I had had the locksmith here changing all of the locks. He must have done something to the knob on the cattery door, something that made it possible for Spirit to push it open, when he'd never been able to do anything like this before. Despite my belief that things do happen for a reason I am tortured over this. What could I have done differently? How could I have prevented this?

Last night, (well, really the night before last, but I haven't been to sleep yet), around 1:00 am, the phone rang and I just ignored it, thinking it was Coco, with her usual late night harassment calls. An hour later I checked the message and heard the doctor say that he needed to speak with me immediately. When I called him back I learned that Berwick had arrested and that they had him on a respirator. I wouldn't have wanted them to bring him back if I knew that his heart had stopped. I mean shit what are you going to do, keep a cat on a respirator in a coma forever? The vet said that there was a slim chance that if he could stabilize his potassium levels that he might be able to keep him going long enough to repair what he thought must be an abdominal or bladder tear that they hadn't seen. He wanted to know if I wanted them to kill him (euthanize is such a bullshit word) or keep working. I couldn't decide. I started sobbing and asking every question I could think of. I've said this before, this is the worst position anyone has to be in, deciding whether or not to end the life of someone you love. Wait too long and you've selfishly prolonged their suffering because you want to hang on to them, kill them too soon and you've removed the chance that they might have had to live. It's lose lose. I asked the doctor to wait and told him that I wanted to see Berwick. I called my boyfriend sobbing and left a message on his machine begging him to pick up the phone, to help me make this decision, to come with me to the hospital or to, at least, page me when he woke up.

It was so late. I was one of the few people on the streets. At the hospital I was the only person other than the doctor, his assistant and a lab tech who was feeding the animals and cleaning the cages. Berwick was laying on his side on this metal table with tubes all over him. His tongue was hanging out, there was some kind of clamp pinching his skin by his groin. They were afraid to have me there seeing this. I just stood back and let them work. they were giving him epinephrine to keep his heart working and insulin and something else to bring his potassium levels back down. He had started to breathe on his own so they took him off the respirator. His whole bottom half was shaved so they could see the wounds and clean them. The tech was shaving his little arm so they could put another catheter in. It was awful. It hurt so much to see him like that, my old friend, this cat who never learned to trust me enough to let me hold him, lying there looking so sick and helpless. I couldn't stop crying, big falling tears, drop after drop, splashing on this metal table, wetting his fur. I held his hand, I talked to him, I kissed his belly. I asked God to tell me what to do.

Finally after asking the vet what he would do and hearing that if it were up to him he would euthanize Berwick, I just sucked it in and said okay. Then I stood there watching his body spasm, while they got papers for me to sign, and a big syringe filled with this weird green liquid. I was so scared, so confused. I couldn't get clear on what the right thing to do was. I kept hoping Scott would show up, or would page me. Then Berwick's heart started to beat normally and I just couldn't let them do it, so I told them I had to go out in the hall and think. I asked them not to resuscitate him again if he had another heart attack and went out weeping.

I went into the bathroom and thought, God please take this decision away from me, and then just as I knelt down on the floor (once a Catholic always a Catholic in times of trouble) I heard the assistant at the door saying, "Miss Hyland, Berwick is leaving. You might want to come say good-bye." I was so grateful that I didn't have to make that decision. I knew God had done this for us somehow.

I went back to the operating room and there was this cat in a cage there who looked at me so compassionately, and with so much presence. She looked at me so directly, so clearly, so intensely and she held my gaze for so long. It was helpful in some way, as if she knew how tortured I was and was telling me it as okay. I went to Berwick and his body was spasming and the heart monitor was jumping all over the place. I just put my mouth on his neck by his ear and told him how much I loved him and stayed there until he died.

Later, alone in my car, I was having trouble making myself do anything. I couldn't stay there crying, it was so late and wouldn't be safe. I thought I'd go see S. who must have been in his room sleeping through my message. He would certainly wake up and help me, talk to me till I could cry myself to sleep. I was sad that he hadn't been there, but I felt certain he would have been if he'd heard my call.

When I got to his house I could hear a television blaring and thought, please don't let it be him. He couldn't have heard my message and chosen to avoid me, preferring to smoke and watch television. He wouldn't care so little for me after all these years, everything we'd been through, to let me go through this alone. How could he ignore my plea for help without even picking up the phone to let me know he cared? I was wrong. That was exactly what he had done.

As I sit here bleary, tired, sad and still in so much denial and shock, I keep thinking that Berwick is still here somehow. My fat furry brown friend. The little kitten I rescued so long ago, the person who sat so solemnly in my kitchen when he was a baby. The cat who beat everyone up, who loved to prowl around the garden, who acted so tough but who was really such a coward. How can he be gone? I keep looking at this big purple hurting wound on my arm and am weirdly obsessed with it, grateful in some way for the ay it connects me still to him. I think this is where he was, these marks are from his teeth. He's still here, right here on my arm.

Last night as I sat in my car, parked in front of my house, dazed and crying, I felt this warm breeze and heard the leaves and branches of the trees. I looked up and saw this branch swaying and felt that he might be there flying above me and trying to tell me it was okay. I hope he can forgive me for everything, for not having spent enough time with him, enough to assure him that I would never hurt him, and for not having kept him safe, for letting him die such a horrible death.