Yesterday was a lesson of sorts, in the end teaching me that I am far from feeling okay, far from feeling better.
Far from how I felt and who I was before this.
I’ve been avoiding music since Llew died. But en route to the studio I put some buds in my ears. I thought I’d test myself, see if I’d healed any. But just one key change in and I was triggered, tripping down a staircase in my heart, tears erupting suddenly on the freeway.
By the time I arrived at the studio the wave though had passed and I was able to work, to load and unload kilns and talk to people normally as if nothing had ever happened.
A tsunami one moment, smooth as glass the next, grief feels like that.
I felt nothing the rest of the day, glass into the early evening, until Pete and I had to go to the other house. An electrical concern had come up in this house I own but do not live in. A house I’ve kept for me, for my business, my art.
And for Llewis.
We headed over because the electrical had gone out in the garage, causing the watering system to die and along with it, in the heat of the summer, the landscaping too. I’ve been there every day, walking past those plants and that front lawn, but I’d not noticed until the landscaper called to say the plants were dying.
So off we went to see if a fuse had blown.
I was tired as we drove the few miles from Pete’s house to this one. Tired since I’d landed back from work. Beyond tired even—disoriented. When we got there Pete stayed downstairs and checked the garage while I walked up the steps, one flight then two then three. How many times had I done this. How many times had Pete and I had arrived together on a random evening to take care of one thing or another.
I opened the front door.
Turned off the alarm.
Tired, disoriented, it felt like a deja vu but one with a hole torn from its center. In the fading daylight I saw to my left a swath of clean dark brown fabric, a couch no longer covered up with the sheet I’d been using to keep Llew’s grey fur from shedding all over it. I felt an emptiness, a pang, the light whispering to me through the windows that this feeling was about loss, the pain of what was, hitting the surface of what was no longer.
I wanted to run, out and away and to never come back, run like I had been doing for most of my life.
But the light seemed to be telling me to stay, that it was time now to change.
So I stayed in the house, in the moment.
And with Llewis who sat firmly in center of my heart and this loss.
Llewis. LlewMan, LLew.
How could I not stay with him.
He was Llew with the double “L’”s because I love double letters, Llewis who followed me from one long term relationship to another, from one house to another, Llew who loved to ride in the car, to follow neighbors around the block. Llew, who crashed a wedding reception in a nearby backyard not all that long ago.
At that house, a constant presence to the point of annoyance and resentment I was braced for him as I walked in, waiting for him to be right at the front door, trapped inside and plotting his escape because a cat door was no longer an option.
Raccoons had disallowed that, that precious convenience of him going in and out on his own, of him doing his business elsewhere.
For years, disgruntled, I dealt with litter boxes. Bigger and more as he got older so he’d be comfortable and so they could accommodate all the waste from his aging kidneys. Everywhere it seemed there were litter boxes and litter spilled, no matter how often I cleaned, no matter how many larger deep boxes I got for him to go in.
He was always there, Llew, usually dirty, dusty, shedding, last year bringing in a nasty flea infestation.
I opened the front door, turned off the alarm, reflexively guarding to stop Llew from running out. But there was no one waiting to escape this time, no one to annoy me with his fleas and loyalty.
And there went my heart, tripping and falling and aching for him to be there like he'd always been for fifteen years.
Blasé, confident, comical, Llew was my pain-in-the-ass side kick that I pretended to not love as hugely as it turns out I did—and do. We were partners in crime, he attacking dogs and me getting out the check book to pay for the damages. Me rolling my eyes at the fact that this cat bit dogs, ate dogs for breakfast lunch and dinner. It was me too who hauled Llew’s dirty grey body into the vet for a flea bath, “a day at the spa" I called it and me who picked him up the next day, releasing him outside in his new shiny grey suit.
I complained to the neighbors about how much it cost, how ratty he usually looked, how he seemed entirely un-phased for the time away from home.
For all the annoyances I claimed, the distance I tried to portray between us, Llew simply--and correctly--refused to acknowledge or take any of it seriously.
Llew never moved out, never changed, never left.
Until the last few days of his life. When he was there a little less of him. Outside he wouldn’t come when called. Too weak, I’d find him laying down in the sun, wanting a lift back in.
Inside, resting more, he wasn’t who he’d been.
He was slipping away on his own until I acknowledged that slipping away was not painless for him. And so I helped him. I apologized out loud that I could not make him live longer.
“But I promise,” I told him, “I’ll stop the pain.”
After, I called the vet.
I took the earliest appointment I could which was in one hour. I emptied all those litter boxes into the garbage while LLew laid on the couch. Up and down the steps, twenty five pounds at a shot, this was what he saw and heard me doing.
Not long after I’d gotten all the litter thrown away I gathered up Llew who went easily into his carrier. I looked out the window, picked the carrier up and, like a punctuation mark before leaving the house for the last time with him in my life, I pulled that dirty sheet off the couch.
The vet’s was close by and I’d left way too early. So I found a parking spot across from the office and sat in the car.
"Where are you?" he wanted to know then drove as quickly as he could.
Not long after he found us parked and waiting. Getting into the passenger seat, Llew's carrier on Pete's lap, it was the three of us now with Pete remembering how much Llew always like riding in cars. I thought back to the first year of my budding romance with Pete, how we'd spent more than one evening cruising around with LLew in the back seat.
For the last hour of his life Llew remained though mostly in his carrier.
Except for the end, when we took him out for his appointment, when the vet looked at him and seemed to agree with the decision. She smiled, nodded her head. “You just gotta love the grey kitties,” she said and seemed to know from a place that allowed, for a few brief seconds, her to help me hold this pain.
She gave him a sedative, what she called “the best cocktail ever,” and wrapped him in a blanket.
“Would you like to hold him?” she asked.
Skinny like he’d never been, I took him from her. Tears falling, I could feel the drug making his small body lunge just slightly, a rhythm, a steady beat, which I’d feel a few days later doing laundry, cleaning that sheet, pouring the thick Tide liquid from the big jug into the small cup.
Pulse, pulse, pulse—is that you, Llew?
The vet then shaved a small spot on his front paw, inserted an IV and in less than a minute, with a stethoscope in her ears, she said, “He’s gone.”
No more litter boxes, no more shedding all over the house, no guarding his exit at the front door.
What was that is no more is…Llewis.
And what remains is me now learning the hard way that life and living are about litter boxes and dirt and shedding and fleas—me learning the hard way that pretending to not love what you love most doesn’t work.
And that maybe it's not time’s responsibility to heal, but mine.
So I move forward by staying right here, by allowing what was that is no longer to hurt as much as it should hurt, by allowing all the sadness I feel for the loss of my sweet Llew, my Llewis with two L’s to be heard, to be known, to be grieved.
Pulse. Pulse. Pulse.