A Tale of Kashmir. An Angel that came to me.
On August 20, 2009 I went into the Petco by Whole foods on College in Fort Collins. It was arranged a lot different than now and the cats in cages for adoption were right in front, the first thing you would see. On this day they seem to have some cats outside in a kind of golden wire wraparound fence. I was drawn to one cage within. Inside despite all the hustle and bustle slept a battered Angel. There was a dark brown face that went blondish around the ruff then to a light brown or black as you got near the stubbiest little tail ever. The lowest part of all four stumpy legs was dark brown. I reached in the enclosure and rubbed him a little in the first few minutes. The little tail started twitching and pointing. He eyes opened and they were a beautiful blue. I ran my fingers down him and I could feel the mats on his long silky fur. I had to take him away from this. I knew he was precious beyond measure instantly. The sign of his cage said he was three years old. The store manager showed me a document saying how he came from (fittingly) “Angels with Paws” and his name was “Manny”. All was arranged in a blur and I was going to take him home the next day.
I burst in the door and said to the lady within something like, “I found him.” I meant that I had found a missing piece of the household. Living there were three cats. Smokey was 18 and very thin but adorable with cutie pie kitten face and a powerful AM yell. Sassy was plump and crazy. My girl had taken her away from abusive people and she had some mental scars. She liked to antagonize other cats, but really it was for show though she could get angry for nothing. Like Smokey, in terms of being in the autumn of my life and hers was my companion of 18 years, Brewster. Every inch a Queen still. Aloof and intolerant. A gray tiger medium coat with the personality to match. Somewhat shy around other cats now, in her iron youth she had lived in western Massachusetts at a farmhouse with me. She would take on any wild thing she had encountered and had within the previous year held off two foxes by backing up against a tree and swatting them. She was and is (though departed now) the rock that brought me from a kind of madness of 20 years into life again.
This was what awaited “Manny.” I went with my girl back to Petco. I went in with Brewster’s traveling cage and found those blue eyes. I held him for the first time. I remember thinking what a little guy he was. Into the cage and out to the car. It was too dark to see him well (in the car) so we went home. I think we opened up the carrier downstairs and I think I could hear my girls breathing catch as he bumbled out for the first time. He looked at us briefly with those eyes and began to explore, stumpy tail twitching. I left my girl with him and immediately began calling around to see who could groom the mats off. I knew they pulled and hurt. I got him in on-the-fly to the local vets place (Dr. Grump). His girls shaved the new guy and it was not easy. He was squirmy when agitated and unleashed his Siamese voice. BRAWWOOOOW. It was loud as hell. I noticed that when he walked (he commenced investigating the vets office too) he did so plantigrade-on his heels like us. And oh he was thin. It’s good that he landed with me, the King of overfeeding. When it was over he seemed much better at least in spirit. I knew that his breed was not the most athletic but he seemed to get tired pretty quick. This trip to the vet was the first of many in rapid sequence in the search for answers.
He came home again to adoration at least from the humans. Sassy didn’t care much for him. Dear old Smokey toddled right up to him and sneered with love as she did. He went up the stairs to meet the Queen. She deemed him unworthy. Nothing got him down. He shuffled around and explored-not very fast, but everywhere. He spent his first couple of nights- maybe a week in the basement bedroom. I was so struck then as now whenever I looked at his heavy featured big brown face with the blue eyes. I felt pretty sure I was looking into eyes that saw God. He bore no malice to anyone. Even cats can be selfish (not as much as humans but they want stuff right now) but my Baby Boy was not. Just discovering him wherever he was multiple times each day could make me joyous. He loved his mama right off and she doted on him even more than I did. Mama would do yoga and Smokey would lie in such a way as to make every pose difficult. The Baby Boy would lie stretched out nearby, purr and fart. Along these two lines, it wasn’t long before all you needed to do was come near enough to hear his purr and it was there. He would pop up his head like a tortoise when he saw you too-not just for food (he ate well and a lot right to the end) but anything. I went to clean the litter boxes that first week (feeding and letterboxes were my job) and discovered his movements were the size of a humans or pretty near. Being a boy myself that was very impressive. Meanwhile he would continue to bumble about. Naps were rare initially. I couldn’t see how he did it the way he walked and moved, but he could jump up on anything: beds, couches or chairs. He would follow you around the house. He discovered going outside and seemed to love it. He needed a name besides “Manny” I thought. A name that spoke to being Himalayan, his power to bring up instant love with a look. I thought of “Kashmir” and the lyrics and thunder of that Zeppelin song seem to fit: particularly “the traveler of both time and space.”
He would look at me over his shoulder by the sliding door and bray. I would open it and he would lurch out. I’d rub the base of his stubby tail on the way by and it would twitch impatiently. He had his spots outside and on the back deck (when he was on the back deck it usually meant he was ready to come in) and would stay out for hours. In the fall of 2009 I planted an orange tree or bush as part of getting the yard redone. He would lie under the orange tree from the first and it didn’t matter that it was poky tree bark mulch that he lay on, or that it might be wet or muddy. Plenty of times I would go have to go get him (he is famous for ignoring repeated name calls) and pull sticks and mud off him or towel him off because he didn’t care to remove it himself. He would purr all the while and then I would feed him and watch him eat since he seemed to enjoy it so much. He ate what he was given most of the time but sometimes he liked turning his ass to the bowl and making burying motions.
Our love for him grew. He is a saint but he seemed so frail. He had such little shoulders and body and back legs. Three years old? I went to Dr. Grump’s and we did some X-rays. You could catch most of him on one X-ray film but when we tried to turn him on his back for a different shot he would go wild. The X-ray showed no cruciate ligaments, a ton of arthritis and his chest cavity was filled with fluid. His right lung was completely deflated. Like the rest of him however what remained-in this case his left lung- rose to the task. It looked like a coal chute, huge and going across the middle like a sash. The price for getting that information was a prodigious pee on the X-ray table. Because we couldn’t see his heart through the fluid we tried ultrasound with a mobile vet. He rewarded the nice lady who did it by peeing all over her table too. His pee was like water so add in chronic renal failure as well. His X-rays told us he also wasn’t three-more like 13. When I summed it all up in my head, how could he be so alive? How could he be bumbling all around the house, eating and pooping up a storm and going outside to lie in the mud? Surely if I had all his ills I would be bedbound. Not him. I picked him up after all the tests and he wrapped those big front paws around my neck and hugged. How brave he is. I may be holding all the cards being human but what I wouldn’t give for his strength to carry on so well.
Like most cats when the Christmas tree went up in 2009 (and in 2010) he went right under it. He liked it in the basement where the tree was anyway at that time. His only pal besides us two legs was dear old Smokey. She would often meet him at the door upstairs to go out and they would touch noses. One day she sneezed in his face and he seemed mortified. He walked away from her shaking his head and went and hid. They made up at some point that day and would often have brief encounters. They were quite a pair stumbling about. With Smokey though, it was advanced age for sure. I had the privilege of looking into her kitten face and hearing her AM Howl the fall of 2009 through March 2010. By February she had become extremely frail. On March 1, 2010 we left her downstairs on the couch wrapped in blankets and she seemed to be having trouble breathing. This is Mamas Kitty she had got from her grandparents before they died. We kissed Smokey and went to work thinking that this would probably be it. It was. We came home and I went in first and saw right away she was gone. My girl came after and fell to her knees weeping at the loss of dear Smokey. Just then I noticed off to one side the couch was Kashmir. We can’t know for sure but it seems likely that he watched over her as she transitioned. Being an Angel he could probably guide her and perhaps comfort her. Then he looked at us and tried to comfort us. After all an Angels job is never done.
The hole in our hearts from Smokey seemed to demand some filling. We went sliding past the cages at Pet Smart and all the baby kittens and young ones were in the top cages getting top bill from visitors. One on the bottom over in the far right corner seemed dark. That is because it was full of darkness. Mama opened this cage and this gigantic cat just kept coming out. He was nine years old and we figured we should get him since he was middle-aged totally black and huge. We named him Royal-for Royal Orleans, another Zeppelin song. He clocked in at 19 pounds. He seemed all right at first at the house-just lying around, going out, investigating this and that. But we failed to do though was proper introductions and Sassy started to pick fights with him. I don’t remember the specific day or time but a switch flipped inside him and Royal became a terror. He started going after everyone. Sassy was first on his list. He even went after Brewster (20 years old by now and still held her own against this Monster). One evening he stalked Kashmir. Before I knew it he had Kashmir: was rolling him around and flipping him in the air. Kashmir would not fight. I walked in to it to get Kashmir. The year 2010 turned into a kind of Kitty Hell after that. Once we kept Sassy full time in the dining room with the door closed some of Royal’s anger was in check, but Kashmir was still around him. Thankfully they didn’t have much contact and we kept an eye on the both. Then Brewster got sick and left us in October 11, 2010 which is a tale in itself. Sassy and Kashmir moved to my room. At night we would keep them in my room and Royal moved around in the rest of house. By day we would lock Royal in the downstairs and when we get home from work we would “release the beast.” There was nothing else that worked other than separation. It was nice though having Sassy and Kashmir sleep in my room every night. Sassy wanted out of the room though she would face death by Royal. Kashmir never complained and she didn’t bug him-much. He seemed almost content, almost understanding.
In June 2011 his Mama went to go live elsewhere. She took Royal with her. I love Royal but I can still remember how good it felt to let Kashmir out to explore again. Technically Sassy was her cat but she seemed to have bonded to me strongly so I got to keep her. Those two roamed everywhere. They weren’t that close but at night I would sit downstairs and watch TV. Kashmir still lived mostly downstairs (he would shift his living space periodically) and they would sit on the couch together occasionally never touching. It was still a kick to see him gather his legs under him and jump on the couch which was at least 2 feet high. He didn’t like to be helped with that. I went to Cape Cod for a week and the babysitter said she was making them dinner and Kashmir snuck up behind her to let out a howl. Then he went by the sliding glass door and let out another one. BRAAAWWWW. She was shocked at the power.
In the fall of 2010 I started painting the house by hand. He was out with me. Often Sassy was too. We settled into a sweet routine. Kashmir moved to the mid-level living room. In the morning I would look down and he would look back and I knew everything was all right. He maintained his adventures. Despite the dangers of the night he would Bray to go out. I would worry because he had no fear at all. Angels never do. One evening he found a hole in the southwest corner of the fence that his littleness could get through. I discovered the hole after running around the yard frantically. I went over to the other side of the fence calling him as I went up the block. He was just sitting in the neighbor’s yard. The flash of his eyes found him. Such relief and thanks as I scooped him up and held him. There were two people sitting on the tailgate of their truck as I walked back and both paused in their drinking to marvel at the beauty of the bundle I held.
Over the winter, his breath-never good-got to be like a crypt. One of my fellow vets at work who had a ton more small animal experience than I did and was a huge cat sap to boot arranged to look into getting his teeth done. Considering his lungs and all this would not be an easy task so we took him to a place that specialized in dentistry. I have a carrier that you can use on planes. It has a top that unzips. On the ride into the place I sat in the passenger’s seat and the carrier was on my lap. He poked his head out and looked through the windshield at the sky. I propped him up so he could see more. When I got to the clinic he climbed out of the carrier despite large dogs being in the waiting room with him. Angels seem to know no fear because the thought that one creature would harm another doesn’t exist or it’s worth putting yourself out there in case the result is a new friend. When I got back to work, I was pretty scared that he would die on the table but something told me not yet, not yet. He came out fine. It was the same in reverse on the way back from the clinic with a new driver. Dear head poking up. Me looking at its blondness with brown ears and thanking God for him.
He seemed to perk up after the worst of his rotting teeth were gone. I started him on Calcitriol and blood pressure meds. His stubby tail was quivering now all the time as he roamed his yard and ate. He seemed to have a new energy for life and visits by his Mama brightened him up more. That summer my father died. Kashmir fixed with me with his blue eyes and lessened the loss. We’d go for trips to the vet in the summer of 2012 in his airplane carrier on my bicycle. We rolled through the neighborhood for all to see him and him to see all. After all it was his kingdom. He would nuzzle his girlfriend at the vets and kick and bite any human that attempted to hold them for examination. A terrible patient start to finish.
That October I thought he might enjoy some cream. This was a huge mistake. It began the diarrhea that lasted almost 2 months. Being Kashmir, it really didn’t affect his day. He would blow out a mess in the litter box (thankfully!) 2 to 3 times a day and then go out or go eat. It wasn’t even an inconvenience to him. We had a kind of Christmas that year (not as much put into it that year and the last as his Mama used to do). I didn’t do a tree but did decorate some. I told him how much I treasured him and his sister Sassy whose torments had turned into a more oafish attempted play. For example, she liked jumping in front of him then rolling on her back and trying to smack him with her front paws. That winter, I think I began to feel that he might not be with me forever. He moved upstairs to my room and I was even gladder to see him every time I did like desperation for sight of him had set in. The last moment of every day and the first moment of the next was the best. Brushing had become a ritual that summer and I would look forward to it every night. Brushing lasted a minimum of 10 minutes in my room while he reclined on pajamas in a pile or in the other bedroom. I moved a litter box into the other bedroom to save his legs on the stairs. He would still come downstairs and go out. Sometimes I would carry him down. I felt guilty to go watch TV while he would stay upstairs. However, when I brought him downstairs into his old place on the couch he wouldn’t stay and jumping off the couch didn’t seem to be fun anymore. He became increasingly unable to maintain his so beautiful fur. I had him shaved in the spring. I got a good look at those thin back legs. At times he seemed to collapse in the back and almost like a crouch. I was in denial. My boy cannot leave. He has too much to teach me; a big part of me relied on him.
As spring rolled into summer of 2013 he was having trouble getting around even in the grass. No matter-I would carry him forever if need be. I owed him so much. I spent less time in my own stupid head caring for him. Anybody but me could see he was fading. We had a cookout in the backyard at the end of July. I made sure he was present lying in front of the back porch in the soft grass. People there said he kind of seemed to be somewhere else. He might’ve been looking towards his next home. I had noticed he would miss the litter box upstairs. Anger is a form of fear and I am ashamed to say I got angry occasionally. On August 2, 2013 I came home and there were shit smears on the wall in his bedroom and a pile in the corner. I got so angry I yelled. I grabbed him and put him outside while I cleaned it up and changed the litter. What an asshole. Full of remorse, I went outside and found them under the lilac bush-one of his spots I sat in the mulch and talked to him softly telling him how sorry I was and how afraid I was and how much I loved him. He came out from under the lilac bush to me slowly and I hugged and kissed him. Angels always have bottomless forgiveness even if you cannot forgive yourself. I brought him inside raining kisses on him while holding his frail form. I took him upstairs and he went into his litter box. He stood straight and tall and peed perfectly for me probably. I brushed him that night with urgency like I had to pack all of the love I could into it. The next day I greeted him with more heart soar than usual. He had big breakfast. I carried him outside. It didn’t seem too long before he was standing at the sliding glass door Braying to come back in. For some reason I watched him go upstairs intently. Little back legs going up each stair one of the time slowly ever so brave brushing every physical ill aside. I wept some and told him that he meant to me. He sat by the window in the second bedroom looking at me and gave me long slow winks and purrs.
I left and came back from the gym about 2 PM. He was curled up in the way he does in front of the window. Breeze pushing the curtains and sunlight on him. I tapped on the floor next to him because he is a sound sleeper. Usually he rights himself with a flurry of limbs. Not this time. His suffering and illness was over. Mine was beginning. I lay him on the bed next to the window. It was a new bed and I had kind of gotten it for him. I wanted him to get up there and sit like the King he is. The suddenness and guilt and the hole of him not being here just about killed me. Washing the rest of his food from just that morning down the sink and thinking of all the things I would not do for him now made for a shit storm of grief. How could he be gone? I don’t get death. One minute he is there and the next minute he’s not. How can I not touch him and talk to him and hear him. There is panic. My faith was shattered. I begged, even if I dissolve into nothingness when I die that there is a place for him and all the others like Brewster. In 1,000 lifetimes I could not even approach his Spirit. To give serenity. To walk with so many ailments and not care. To live each day in each moment in constant contact with God. To be tiny and beautiful and pierce with a gaze that thousand and one bullshit things that humans think each day with one truth. Be with me. Be with us. Nothing else matters.
It’s the end of October now. Twelve weeks and a day since he left. Grief is less sharp but the ache is still there. I hope it stays there. I seem to be kinder. Sassy looks for him and tries to comfort me. It’s a beautiful day. The kind that he loved. May he love them still. May he wrapped in a love and a lap that is infinitely more than my own but still know that he is loved here always. That his teachings and life is so precious to me even though I can’t begin measure up to him. When he was in the bedroom in the last year I would keep the light on for him when I was downstairs, only turning it off when I went to bed after saying good night to him and kissing him a final time for that day. I still do that. I stand in the doorway where I last saw him and tell them how much I miss him. The light is on in case he wishes to visit and I pray that I become worthy of that visit. Run Kashmir. No sick lungs or legs. Run Baby Boy. You are with me always and with Brewster (and Royal now and Smokey and Felch and Lipton and Lady and…). I hear Robert Plant singing his namesake song, “let me take you there.” You take me to the best part of me always.