Saturday, July 2, 2016

Farewell, Old Friend

Requiescat in Pace

1998 -2016
Yesterday morning at 8:54 AM my cat Roy passed away, his head resting gently on my hand. He was 18 years old, and had spent virtually his entire life with me. He was one of the most affectionate cats I have ever known, and I loved him very much.

He was just a few weeks old when my late friend Matt brought him by my apartment in St. Joseph. Matt's sister Jenny supposedly found him wandering around in the street, and decided to "rescue" him. They had a dog, though, so their parents quickly put the kibosh on that idea.

The plan was for me to keep Roy for a few days while they looked for someone else to adopt him
(I already had a cat), or at least that's what they said the plan was. No such other owner ever materialized, of course, and it became something of a running gag between us. Whenever I would talk to either Matt or Jenny, they would always ask me how "their" cat was doing...

Life With Roy

Roy lived with me in my apartment near Bishop LeBlond in St. Joseph for six years, then a year in Council Bluffs when I began teaching in Atlantic in 2004 (I commuted). In 2005 I found an apartment in Atlantic, and he spent the next nine years with me there. We moved back to Council Bluffs in the summer of 2014, when I took the teaching job at Thomas Jefferson.

Of all of the places we lived together, my current apartment was his favorite, as it had more windows, more room, and most especially more high places to lounge. He was always fond of the tops of refrigerators and cabinets. When we moved back to the Bluffs we also got some new furniture.

The new sofa was a hit, but the other two would always let Roy have the best spot...

I'm sure he believed that I arranged all of those magazines just
to be a place for him
to stretch out...

When we first moved
to this apartment, it did not take long for him to pick out a favorite napping spot...

He used to give me dirty looks when he was up there napping and
I made a noise in the kitchen that disturbed his sleep...

By last fall, he didn't have the strength to jump up there any more, but sometimes I'd lift him up there myself, for old times' sake...

He never was a big fan of the computer, because I couldn't make his preferred lap configuration while using it. He would often sit nearby and register his displeasure...

In our 18 years together he was there for me during some of my darkest moments. I am glad that I was there to comfort him at the end.

Last Days

I've been around cats my whole life, and I have a good sense of when they're reaching the end of their lifespan. Roy did not indicate that he was in any pain, but by the end he wasn't eating very much, and needed me to help him up and down from his preferred sleeping spot on the kitchen counter.

Although his vision, hearing, and sense of smell had all faded considerably over the last year or so, right until the end his "ice cream radar" was working perfectly. No matter how soundly he was sleeping, I could never open a container of ice cream without him standing right there, expecting to be given a taste (which he always got, of course). For the past couple of weeks, he would get those treats two or three times a day, because they always seemed to perk him up.

We went through a period of time this spring where he would no longer lay in my lap, probably because it had become difficult for him to get comfortable there, but over the last week or so he took to spending a lot of time in my lap again. I think he knew the end was near. When he was in my lap, he purred contentedly, and was able to fall deeply asleep just like he always had. I am grateful for those last hours of lap time.

Today is the first time in 18 years that he wasn't around when I woke up. The weather is cold and rainy this morning, and now I have a Roy-sized hole in my life...

A Sound I Miss Already

From the pen of B. Kliban, whose cartoons (and not just the ones about cats) you should take the time to explore.

Final Resting Place

I would have preferred that Roy's final resting place be closer to my apartment, but since it was broad daylight I decided to take him across the street to Valley View Park. Because I needed a shovel, I placed the box containing Roy's body in the trunk of my car and drove to Home Depot, then over to the park. It was the only time Roy ever rode in the new Rose Red, and the only car ride he ever took that did not involve an ungodly amount of caterwauling.

I selected a spot well away from any area people are likely to walk, close to the slope that leads down to a creek. You can see my apartment building through an opening in the trees. It is possible that I may have wept as I dug.

I'm not sure how long the red petunias will survive, but it made me feel good to plant them at the grave (just like the end of Flowers for Algernon). I said the words Catholics hear every Ash Wednesday...

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I know, old, too...

Until Next Time...

In the fall of 1998, not long after Roy came into my life, I directed the stage play
Flowers for Algernon for the first time. Matt played the lead, Charley Gordon, and performed brilliantly. It was one of the best productions I was ever associated with, and to this day people still remind me of it when I bump into them while visiting St. Joe.

I never thought I would direct the show again, especially after Matt died in 2008. I was sure that I would never be able to top the LeBlond production. But I realized in the fall of 2010 in Atlantic that I once again had a perfect cast for the show, and I decided that directing it again might be a way to help me move on.

Once I had decided to direct the play again, my thought process soon turned to the question of the final scene. As written, the Charley Gordon character places flowers on Algernon's grave, then departs as the lights fade to black.

In my staging, the lights follow Charley as he goes "outside" to the gravesite, and a single spotlight remains up on the grave until he has left, then fades slowly to black.

While this is happening, there is no dialogue, but I use music to help give the scene more emotional punch.

In the production which starred Matt, he talked me into using the Pearl Jam song "Nothingman," which was surprisingly effective. I didn't want to use it again for the second production, though (all of the music I chose for the second production wound up being different from the first).

As often happens when I'm working on the incidental music for a show, I got inspired by a TV program. In this case, it was a rerun of an episode of House, M.D. (one of my all-time favorite shows). One of the things I enjoyed about that show was its frequent use of popular music to help tell the story, much as I often did in my stage productions.

The particular song in this instance was "Into Dust," by Mazzy Star, in an episode called "Informed Consent." I knew it would be perfect for the final scene, and so it was. There was scarcely a dry eye in the house (or the control booth) when the lights finally faded to black.

Today's send-off is the full-length version of the song, in music video form. It was playing in my head as I planted the red petunias yesterday. Till we meet again, Roy...

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