Tag Archives: sad

Everything was beautiful

My big Christmas present from Dan this year was tickets to the San Francisco ballet. Because he wasn’t sure if the tickets would come in the mail in time, he photoshopped up a beautiful 8.5×11 mock poster. I was so excited to be able to spend an evening in the city and to watch a professional ballet, because with the exception of seeing Mark Morris’s The Hard Nut a few times, I hadn’t been to the ballet since we saw Cinderella for my birthday in Denver several years back. I love seeing live performances, especially of ballet, but it’s rare that I get to do it, primarily because of the cost. It was the perfect Christmas present.

Our tickets to the ballet were for February 4, so last Wednesday we solicited restaurant recommendations in the neighborhood of the Opera House from our friends who know the city better than we do. We got all gussied up in our finery (me in a dress and tights I’d gotten for Christmas, he in his swanky suit) and drove the 90 miles south on Highway 101, somehow managing to time our journey perfectly to avoid rush-hour traffic pretty much the entire way and still getting to see the sun setting on the Pacific Ocean as we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. Our luck continued; we found a parking spot easily between the Opera House and the restaurant we’d settled on (Domo Sushi), and we strolled to Domo and ordered edamame, nigiri and a couple of unusual rolls, sitting at the bar to watch the master sushi chefs at work. Our dinner was light and delicious, and we had plenty of time to walk to and explore the opulent San Francisco Opera House before it was time to find our seats in the balcony. We were right in the front of a section, so didn’t have to look over anyone’s heads, and the lights gleamed off the chandelier as the orchestra warmed up. The curtain rose on this season’s production of Giselle.

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A week ago Saturday, a young man drove up to the Sierra Nevada ski resort area, strapped on a helmet and set out for a day of downhill snow sports. He and his new fiancee had recently bought a house in San Francisco, and he had everything going for him, including a 24-year-old sister who loved him dearly. The man didn’t live through the end of the day, as during one of his runs, he collided with a tree, and despite the helmet did not survive his massive injuries. I didn’t find out until last Monday, when my sister emailed me to let me know that her roommate was grieving for yet another family member whose life was cut short. I never met the man, but my sister’s roommate is also one of her closest friends and has attended many of our family events (weddings, holidays, parties, the meet cute of sister with her Irish boyfriend) over the years, so to me she’s become another part of our extended family. My heart hurts for her, yet there’s no words that I or anyone else can say that will make things better.

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Giselle is one of the oldest classical ballets still being performed. The music is iconic; the choreography hasn’t changed much since the 1840s, and the role of the main character is sought after not only for its notoriety but also its difficulty: physically, mentally, emotionally. Giselle is the story of a young peasant girl in the middle ages who falls in love with a man she meets. She thinks he is a peasant like herself, but he is actually a disguised Duke, already engaged to another woman. The first act of the ballet tells this story of love and betrayal, and we see the free-spirited (yet physically weak) Giselle fall in love, discover her beloved’s true identity, go mad, and collapse of a (literal) broken heart.

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A few weeks ago, Dan and I were wandering around town exploring and taking photos. There are some parts of Cloverdale I’ve never seen despite living here for seven years as a kid/teenager, and one of those is the cemetery on the town side of First Street bridge. We’d been riding by it on our bikes for months and walking by it on our way to the River Walk, but never gone to check it out. Sadly, it wasn’t as interesting as the Olive Hill cemetery, but I was interested to see how old the oldest graves were (1870s) and also to see that very few people had been buried there since the 1960s. (The most recent marker I found was from 2001, and it was a large family plot.) Because it isn’t a Catholic cemetery, there isn’t as much traditional statuary; only a few angels and a few large monuments; most of the grave markers were traditional headstones or flat against the ground. Many of the older markers mentioned the person’s origin – I saw people from Scotland, Nova Scotia, various Eastern European countries, and all of them lived at least part of their lives all the way over here on the West Coast in this little town.

While we were walking through the cemetery, Dan and I talked about trends in death markers, and why people put so much less emphasis on leaving a lasting monument anymore. These days, even with people who are cremated, it seems one is more likely to be buried under a small metal plaque flush against a green lawn rather than anything made of marble. And what is a death marker for, anyway, other than for the benefit of the survivors, to have a place to come and…visit? Maybe that works if you’re religious, but for me it doesn’t make any sense at all. I told Dan that when I die I’d much rather have my name on a park bench someplace, or a plaque on a wall at a museum or a science center I loved and supported. I’d rather the monument to me be useful to those still living – a donation made to a worthy cause, a place for weary hikers or adventurous picnickers to rest their butts, or even a place for a homeless person to sleep.

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Yesterday, Dan and I were out running an errand in Alexander Valley, northeast of Healdsburg, when we drove past a sign that made me take pause. On our way home, I asked him to stop at the side of the road so I could look at it more carefully. “Ben’s Butte,” it said “In loving memory of Ben Black, March 24 1978 – August 11 2001.” My heart sank in my chest, because this is a small area, population-wise, and there’s no way there could be that many Ben Blacks born in 1978. I knew exactly who Ben Black was. One of my earliest memories of preschool is of climbing a play structure with my friends, trying to get away from Ben Black and his friend Casey who were play-chasing us. He and his friends used to pretend to be the Incredible Hulk in the sandbox. When I was very young, I had a high fever while cutting some teeth, and in my fever hallucinations Ben and Casey were shooting arrows at us on that play structure. Ben was about a year older than me, and when I skipped second grade I skipped into his classroom. He was good-natured and treated me well even though I was this little smart girl so much smaller than all the other kids in the class. We moved to Cloverdale after 5th grade and I guess Ben went to Healdsburg High School, and I never gave him another thought until yesterday when I saw that he’d died nearly 10 years ago. Ben was 23 when he died, a senseless hit-and-run motorcycle accident.

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It’s shocking to us, now, when someone who is young and healthy dies. Modern medicine has enabled mortally wounded soldiers to survive injuries that would have killed them in previous wars. It has rid us or nearly rid us of some childhood diseases, and it’s so rare for anyone to die at 23 or 30 that it makes the news. In August 2001, when Ben Black was killed, I was living in Berkeley, in a new long-distance relationship with Dan. My sister’s roommate’s brother was right around my age, and was taking all recommended precautions and died anyway. Back when Giselle was set (the middle ages) and written/first performed (the mid-1800s) people had a much more respectful relationship with death. Many people didn’t have medical care, and young, healthy people could and did die all the time – in childbirth, of infections, in wars. People put up monuments to commemorate the lives of lost loved ones (age 6 days, age 12 years, age 29), many of which still stand centuries or more after the last person who ever knew the skeleton underneath the monument when they were alive shuffled off their own mortal coils.

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Whenever I think of someone dying young, a miscarriage at 6 weeks or 17 weeks, a newborn, an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager, a young adult, a person in his or her prime, it always makes me think of the lost potential. What would that person have been? What would he or she have done with additional life? Who would she have loved, who would have loved him? It’s sometimes difficult for me to know what is worse – the death of a person who has lived some but has so much more possibility, or the death of a person who never lived much at all. Regardless, what really matters in the grand scheme of things is that people are remembered by the ones who loved them, loved the potential, loved the deeds and actions.

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I don’t believe in life after death, but in 1840-something nearly everyone did. In Act 2 of Giselle, she has become one of the Wilis, the spirits of women betrayed or jilted before their wedding days, who take revenge on living men by making them dance to death. The Duke who loved Giselle visits her grave and is caught by the Wilis, who order him to dance until he drops. His life is spared by the impassioned Giselle, imploring the queen of the Wilis to take pity on him. Even after death, she is able to do something to help her still-living lover.

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There is only one upside I see to the senseless, tragic death of a healthy young person, and that is organ donation. There are many, many people who spend months or years waiting for a healthy organ to replace one that is diseased, malformed, or nonfunctional. One of my friends has undergone two heart replacement surgeries and is still alive and healthy in his mid-30s, all thanks to two donors who had marked that checkbox at the DMV saying that someone could use their organs if they didn’t need them anymore. Dan and I have both agreed that if one of us dies young and relatively healthy, that our parts should be given away to people who might be able to use them. I don’t know whether Ben Black or the friend’s brother were organ donors, but even if they were not, many other people who have died tragically young in accidents have been able to help others with the gift of life. With the exception of religious objection, why not agree to donate your in good working order parts to people who can use them when you know you will no longer be able to do so?

Ten Good Things about Petra

1. Due to her origins as a rescued, injured, shelter kitty, we never knew what Petra’s breed was. It’s possible she was a ragamuffin or a British shorthair – she had a round, pumpkin-faced look, and the softest, thickest fur I ever felt on a cat. She was black and white, but not like most black and white cats. When you saw her fur in the sun, you saw how true black and true white she was – no hidden stripes underneath. She felt like a rabbit when you petted her, and was incredibly docile – she let us hold her like a baby, hold her upside down, and she enjoyed being petted backwards. Petra had perfect kitty eyeliner, a black nose with a tiny pink spot, and black freckles on her white front legs.

2. Petra was a fighter. Despite all odds, at around 8 weeks of age she managed to survive either an attack by an animal or a run-in with a car long enough for someone to find her and rescue her, and for the shelter to remove her leg. The vet who cared for her liked her so much she fostered Petra herself until she was well enough to be adopted out. Then, when she swallowed the needle, the only indication we had that anything was wrong was a couple of days of coughing like she had a hairball and a recurring respiratory infection. As soon as the needle was out, she was back to her normal self again. In this final illness, she lived longer than either of us expected, and even rallied a couple of times toward the end before her final decline.

3. Petra loved to sit in the sun and watch the birds and squirrels outside – we called it the kitty show. She made little “excited, want to hunt” meeshing noises whenever she saw something really interesting, whether it was something on the Kitty Show or a moth or other bug inside or a reflection of light on the wall. Seeing Petra get excited about something was one of my favorite things, ever.

4. From the very first time we met her, it was obvious that Petra loved Dan the most. When she was a kitten, she had a habit of sitting on Dan’s chest at 4 AM, purring and making biscuits, and giving him head butts. Dan called it “morning lovey time.” The first time we left her for a few days, when we came back, the first night she woke him up with lovey time about 6 times. Her habits revolved around getting Dan to pay attention to her, and he was the one who could calm her down best when she had scary phantom-limb pain episodes.

5. Petra was very particular about things she liked and things she didn’t like. Sitting on laps: bad. Throw rugs on the floor: good. She was never much of a talker or vocalizer but there were a few things she said that were unlike the way any other cat said them (brrt moo brrt, for example). The last six months or so, most of what she said was moo. The loudest we ever heard her vocalize was on car trips to and from Dan’s parents’ house – man, did she ever hate that, and she let us know about it.

6. Our kitty had a great talent for fitting herself into unusual places, whether that be sitting on spiky box lids or finding hiding places where nobody would think to look. Last Christmas we stayed up at Dan’s parents’ house for several days, so of course we brought the cats with us. When it was time for us to leave, we managed to corral Loki into his carrier pretty quickly, but we couldn’t find Petra. We looked in all her usual hiding spots and everywhere else we could possibly think of, multiple times. We knew she couldn’t have gotten outside, so we were pretty much at a loss. Finally, I found her hiding up inside an old desk; she had squeezed through a little hole and crawled up behind one of the desk drawers. I don’t know how she managed it, but her hour+ of run-around was that much longer that she didn’t have to be in the cat carrier.

7. One of the most important things to Petra was cleanliness. She insisted on bathing herself multiple times a day – up to 10 times, maybe, on some days. She also bathed Loki quite frequently; I think part of the reason why he is so soft is because she gave him baths. Bathing was like a meditation for her and sometimes she’d fall asleep right in the middle of one.

8. Along with the cleanliness issue came a distaste for just about anything that she thought smelled bad. If Petra smelled so much as a molecule of poop or old food or something else she deemed offensive, she’d cover it up with the nearest throw rug or piece of paper. We often came out in the morning to find one of the living room throw-rugs folded over because something on it didn’t smell right to her.

9. Because she didn’t have her left back leg, Petra would often sit with a glazed look on her face, stump twitching, when her left ear itched. Every time we noticed it we told her that she didn’t have that leg, and we’d give her an ear skritching.

10. Petra was all about making good trades. She gave us a trick and we gave her treats. We gave her pets and she gave us purrs; it was the best trade we could imagine and we always felt we were getting the better end of the deal. The last few weeks while she’d been so sick, Petra never purred, even when we were petting her, so we knew she didn’t feel well. This morning, after we’d made the appointment to bring her in, both of us sat next to her, petting her in all the best places. After a few minutes, she started to purr. It was the best thing she could have given us.

Read more about Petra here.

So how is Petra?

Monkey asked a few days ago how Petra was (in response to my “things I am thankful for” post, I believe, where I wrote “healthy pets”).

The thanks I was giving was for Loki being healthy. Petra is still sick, and while we have been treating her for a serious e.coli infection, which it’s possible it’s all she has (and if that is the case, she’ll have cheated death 3 times!), it’s not likely. She’s rallied a bit and put some weight back on now that we’ve been giving her lots of wet food and kitty treats. The past few days it’s been cold, and Petra never acts like she feels very good when it’s cold outside. She’s always been kind of standoffish in the winter; we think the cold makes her stump hurt. So it is difficult to tell how much of it is that and how much is that she doesn’t feel good because she’s sick.

We have been continuing to give her subcutaneous fluids and antibiotics and a potassium goop shot into her mouth via large syringe (which she Does Not Like), and recently added a 1/4 tablet of Pepcid AC to help keep her stomach feeling OK so she doesn’t puke up as much water. There has still been some troubling behavior, and she finishes the current round of antibiotics on Wednesday, so that’s when she’ll be going back in to the vet for a recheck.

There is a test that will tell us definitively whether or not Petra has cancer. It is very, very expensive and invasive and is something we just aren’t willing to put her through. Because if she does have it, all we’d do is continue what we are doing. And if she doesn’t, she’ll get better.

The in-between is really frustrating, though. Our holiday travel plans (which we hoped would include going out to California for Wombat’s birthday and staying through Christmas) are still on hold until we know more for sure. Neither of us wants to leave a very sick kitty, even with offers of assistance that have come from more than one place. If she doesn’t have much longer, we want her to be in her own space and stressed as little as possible, not upset that her humans are gone or being in someone else’s space.

I’m desperately homesick right now; we haven’t been to California since May (the longest I’ve ever gone since moving here) and I miss my family and our friends in California fiercely. I am going to be so, so incredibly sad if we can’t go for Christmas. And I feel guilty that I’m thinking about that rather than thinking about what is best for Petra. But damn, it’s really hard for me right now. Good thoughts appreciated. And for any of you reading this who might reasonably expect a knitted gift from me this year, know that Petra seems to be infusing them with extra love and attention. The past two days she’s been curled up in my knitting and it may never look the same.

The enemy’s gate is down

About two weeks after Dan moved in with me, we went to the Denver Dumb Friends League to find a kitty. I’d wanted one since I moved to Denver, and had purposefully found an apartment that was pet-friendly. But I wanted to wait until Dan moved in, since I knew he was going to, and figured it would be easier to wait until after that happened.

Luckily, Dan was amenable to the idea of kitty-having. So we went to the DDFL and looked at the kittens (I wanted a kitten. Sue me.), but didn’t see any that seemed like OUR kitty. A week or so later, we went in again. Our neighbor Paulene was a volunteer there, and when we got there we put our name on the waiting list (for a “hang out with a kitty” room, and the option of hanging out with three different kitties) and wandered around, looking at our options. We saw a few that looked promising; they’d just gotten a couple of big litters of kittens in so we figured we’d find one in that bunch. Right after we came in, a couple with a little girl came in as well, so they were just below us on the list.

We brought in one kitten. It wasn’t ours. We brought in a second kitten. Not ours. Paulene came by to see how it was going, since she knew we were there to find a kitty, and she asked us, “Have you seen the little one with three legs?” No, we had not, and opted to visit with her next. She was brought in the room and we were instantly smitten, particularly Dan (I suspect she stole his heart right then and there). “This is our kitty!” we knew, just as that family with the little girl was walking by, pointing at our new friend, saying how that was going to be her kitty.

Sorry, little girl. We were first, therefore, she was ours.

We brought her home and spent the next couple of weeks trying to determine her name. The shelter had named her “Bug” (as in, cute as a? I’m not sure. She didn’t look like a bug.) but we knew her real name was something entirely different. Our kitten was strong, a fighter. When she had been a tiny kitten, probably no more than six or eight weeks old, something had happened to her, and someone had found her at the side of the road with her left back leg all mangled and smashed. They brought her in to the DDFL, who amputated her leg. The vet who had cared for her there was so enamoured that she fostered the little kitten herself for the month that it took for her to convalesce and get healthy enough to be adopted out.

Over that first week or ten days when we had her home, we ran through any number of names. Miette, maybe, after the scrappy girl in The City of Lost Children. Or Leeloo, after the character of that name in The Fifth Element. One afternoon, we had our door open and she ran from one of us to another, hiding behind us and other obstacles in her path to get to our neighbor’s door on the other side of the hallway. “The enemy’s gate is down,” I said, and we knew right that her name was Petra, after the girl soldier in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. It was perfect.

Petra charmed everyone she ever met. All of our neighbors loved her. How could you not, with a face like this?

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Two weeks ago, we took Loki and Petra to the vet. It was partly because they needed booster shots and a checkup, as it had been a while since their last visit, but also partly because we’d noticed some disturbing things. Petra had peed a few times outside of the box, something she’d never done before. She seemed thirsty all the time, and would get really excited about having her water dish refilled or the tap turned on in the bathroom sink for her to drink from. She was also throwing up water, and seemed like she was losing weight. Thinking maybe she had diabetes or something else managable, yet still scary, we told the vet about the worrisome symptoms we’d noticed.

Loki was given a completely clean bill of health (and later, when his lab results came back, the vet told us that he was about as healthy as a kitty could possibly be…so, yay!)

Petra was a different story. “We’ll have to wait for the labs to come back,” he said, “but it’s entirely possible it could be one of many different things – none of them good.” Her kidneys were enlarged, and that on top of her other symptoms pointed to either renal lymphoma or a congenital kidney defect, neither curable. He asked us about her breed background, if we knew anything about it, and asked if she’d ever tested positive for FeLV, since that was a primary cause of kitty lymphoma. At home, we went through her records from the DDFL but didn’t see anything that said she’d tested positive for FeLV. The next morning, the vet called with her lab results: an elevated white blood cell count, which could point to a bacterial infection. We put her on a ten-day course of antibiotics and waited to see what would happen.

Nothing happened, except that she got really pissed about having to take a pill twice a day. She didn’t get any better. She continued to drink a lot of water, puke water, and lose weight. So yesterday we brought her back in for the news we’d been dreading, the news that I’d had nightmares about all Monday and Tuesday night. The vet said that we could do an abdominal ultrasound, an asperation of the kidneys, a biopsy. But with her symptoms, and the fact that she’d lost almost an entire additional pound in two weeks, and the fact that her kidneys were an additional 25% larger, made it pretty clear. Petra has renal lymphoma.

Lymphoma in cats can be treatable but is not curable. And after doing some extensive research online last night, we realized we had made the best choice about what her treatment will be. Some forms of feline lymphoma respond well to chemotherapy, giving pets an additional five or six months, a year, even two years in outlier cases. But renal lymphoma, especially at the stage where Petra probably is, does not respond as well. We would rather have her for a few more weeks and give her a good quality of life, where she is happy and comfortable, rather than put her on chemotherapy (when who knows how she will respond to it, if it will make her feel worse, etc.), and try to prolong her life at the cost of her happiness. We will be treating her with administered-at-home subcutaneous fluids (to help her kidneys function better) and prednisone, a cortical steroid that will help slow the progress of the disease. But she is not going to get better.

I don’t know how much longer we will have with our friend Petra, but we plan to make the best of it. We’re going to take lots of photos and videos, give her treats every day, and make sure she knows how much we love her. And I’m going to write more about her, about her other brush with death, about her likes and dislikes, about the things we are going to miss so much when she is gone.


Sometimes it is difficult to write about things that I really want to write about, because of my blog audience. Needless to say, those of you who read my blog regularly may have noticed that I’m not posting as much as usual and not writing anything of substance. Part of this is because I’ve been feeling a little blue recently, what with it being winter (though we’ve had sunny warm days this week, it depresses me more to have that kind of weather when everything outside is stark and brown and bare; I’d rather it snow, honestly) and what with having had a cold now for more than two weeks (Day 18, and still not done being sick) and what with the impending arrival of my Official Descent into Decrepitude. That’s right, my 30th birthday is coming up in 5 weeks and I always have a hard time this time of year, but this year is different than most because it’s a big birthday.

I haven’t done anything for my birthday in years other than maybe Dan makes me a cake and a nice dinner. The parties I’ve attempted to throw since moving to Denver never seem to work out, but this year I really wanted to do something to mark the occasion of my becoming one of the hordes of women in this country who are unimportant because we are out of our 20s (because everyone knows, women lose their looks and their importance to cultural relevance once they’re 30+). For a while, I was tempted to just start celebrating anniversaries of my 29th birthday like someone I know used to do, but my Oldest Friend turns 30 a week before I do and she’s embracing the new number in our age so I suppose it would be kind of silly for me not to do the same thing.

I feel like I’m in a holding pattern right now, waiting through the last bit of Dan’s schooling, waiting through the next few months at my job (which is another post entirely that I can’t write for obvious reasons) until our circumstances change and I can leave, waiting for a sign of spring somewhere to give me hope that the world isn’t going to be drab forever. Waiting to see friends and new babies. Waiting to be over this damn cold so I can start running outside again, and refocus on losing a little bit of weight I’d like to lose before we start seriously getting down to the business of baby making. Waiting until our savings account has more padding.

Since there’s nothing I can do to speed the passage of time, I’ve decided to take a page from several other bloggers I’ve seen, to find grace in small things. Mostly I try to stay positive, stay on the bright side of life, but in the dog days of February in 2009 I’m having a difficult time making this happen. So here’s to a recommitment of positivity.

1. I am making a baby blanket for Spats Turkey, and it is going to be awesome.

2. Leftover spaghetti for lunch, so tasty.

3. Finding out the giftmas present we sent for Wombat was received.

4. Renting a cabin in the mountains for the weekend

5. Matching dad and baby ‘staches.