The Bad Mommy

I work only to pay for his therapy later.

Location: Novato, California, United States

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Fabric of Our Lives

Max, the youngest of our three cats, died Friday morning. It was sudden and stunning and we’re all trying to get used to this new life with a big hole in it.

From what we’ve been able to piece together, Max was hit by a car sometime last week, probably Wednesday. It was apparently a glancing blow and as he wasn’t bleeding, his injuries weren’t immediately obvious. He slept all night Wednesday night in the bottom drawer of C’s chest of drawers. We noticed he was still there Thursday morning, which was a little unusual but not completely strange. Then there was a lot going on Thursday evening – I was out, M & C had friends over for dinner – and no one can remember seeing him that evening.

Friday morning, around 5:15, M woke me up, saying that Max looked funny. There was something in M’s tone of voice – I was up out of bed and in the hallway with Max before I was even awake. He DID look funny. He was in a lot of pain – you could see it in his eyes and in the way he held his body.

I called in to work and got C up and off to school and then Max and I headed to the vet. We were there when they opened at 8:00. I filled out paperwork and they took him back to an exam room. They said they’d have to sedate him in order to do the exam. Max never got over being neutered and even though we tried to explain to him that he could only be neutered once, a trip to the vet always involved biting, even under the best of circumstances. And Friday was certainly not the best of circumstances. I signed various documents and then went home to wait to hear from the vet.

She called around 10:15 and said that when they put Max under and conducted their exam, they discovered various injuries – bruises, torn claws, injured vertebrae in Max’s neck. It was all consistent with his being hit by a car and then skidding down the street. He handled the exam well, until they started to bring him out of the anaesthesia. At that point, he went into respiratory and cardiac arrest and they were unable to save him.

Being hit by a car was consistent with who Max was. He was always much more brave than he was smart. It never once occurred to him – in spite of all kinds of evidence to the contrary – that he was not universally loved as well as invincible. The fight he got into 18 months ago and which required reconstructive surgery never appeared to have any effect on his behavior. He remained his usual friendly, outgoing self.

The only time we ever saw him scared was when he would freak himself out playing with dust bunnies. He would spot a dust bunny, jump straight up in the air, tear around the house a couple of times and then go shooting out the cat door at top speed. Most of the time, remembering how to get through the cat door was a struggle for Max, whom we referred to as our Special Needs Kitty. Not when the dust bunnies were after him, though. Under those circumstances, he’d go through the cat door as though he was leaping through a fire ring at the circus.


Max came to live with us in the fall of 1995. We already had Slick and Maggie and had no plans to add anyone else to the household. We had gone to a baby shower at Pajaro Dunes with a group of friends I’ve known since junior high in the very early 1970s. We were minding our own business when this very cute, fluffy little cat invited himself to the party. He was clearly hungry so one of the friends fed him a can of tuna. After polishing it off in about three bites, he hopped up on the couch, curled up and went to sleep. He spent the afternoon with us and was sweet with the kids – agreeable to being picked up and hauled around and not at all afraid of any of us.

As a group, we came to the conclusion that he was homeless - his whiskers and a couple of his baby teeth were broken and there were no permanent residents at the area of Pajaro Dunes where we were, other than the friend whose house we were visiting, and the cat didn’t belong to her. As a group, we felt someone should take him home. As a group, everyone but M decided the cat should come home with us.

It wasn’t very hard to talk M into it. We were in the midst of the Bad Old Days of infertility. I had miscarried about a year and a half earlier and we had had no subsequent pregnancy successes, in spite of increasingly expensive and anxious work with the fertility doctors. I really wanted the cat and given our circumstances, M was kind enough not to argue very strenuously against our taking him home with us.

So we set up the back seat of the car with blankets and towels and a nice comfy box and put the cat in. As we drove off, the cat ignored all our preparations. He hopped into the front seat and into my lap and napped there for the entire 2+ hour drive home. I was smitten and our fates were sealed.

Unlike Slick and Maggie, whose names seemed obvious right away, Max didn’t have a name for several days. We were kind of sizing him up. We did a little research and learned he was a Maine Coon. We gave him a flea bath and discovered that he was 90% fur and 10% little rat body. These figures also roughly corresponded with his personality – 90% attitude and 10% brain. He never weighed more than 9 pounds – but he always gave the appearance of being much, much bigger.

And in those first few days we discovered what had not been apparent that afternoon at the beach. In his new home, with his new “siblings,” he was a complete and total maniac. He believed he was in charge of everything and Slick and Maggie were just too Type B to set him straight. He ran around a lot (see “dust bunnies,” above). Finally, we settled on the name Mad Max – most often shortened to Max, occasionally lengthened to Maxwell. It suited him.

We settled in. The difficult times with the (in)fertility process continued, and about a year and a half after Max’s arrival, we welcomed C, the miracle baby. Max adjusted more easily than any of the rest of us. Being a cat of very little brain has its advantages and it never occurred to him that C’s arrival would mean anything other than that there was just one more person to love him.

Indeed, that was pretty much the long and the short of it. Unlike many cats, Max was never nervous around kids. If C misbehaved, Max would give him a nip and since C was a quick learner there was never any fur- or tail-pulling. C quickly embraced the idea that being respectful of the animals was a worthy objective. The two of them were good buddies. Max would alternate sleeping on top of C’s head with sleeping on top of me.

The neighborhood kids enjoyed him too and frequently asked about him. They all got a kick out of describing him as being dumber than a box of rocks. It was never said with any meanness or hostility. They were genuinely tickled with the turn of the phrase and loved him because of – rather than in spite of – his dimwittedness. He had friends all over the neighborhood. He was right in his belief that he was universally loved, if not invincible.


M and I picked C up from school on Friday so that we could all be together when we had to share the news of Max’s death.

We went home and while M and C dug a hole in the backyard, I picked out a towel to wrap him in. C carried him outside and we had a brief, impromptu memorial. C has placed our cat-shaped sprinkler that looks like a mini-Max on top of the grave, along with the little ceramic angel that M and I bought 13 years ago to commemorate the baby we lost. There’s a path through the overgrowth that wasn’t there Friday morning.

We’re all dealing with waves of grief and sadness. Max was such a part of the fabric of our lives, it’s just strange and terrible and wrong for him not to be here. I’m even missing the way he would swat or bite my ankles if I walked by without stopping to pet him.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Wishful Thinking

I've been putting some thought into this.

Years ago, Katie Holmes had a poster of Tom Cruise on her bedroom wall and dreamed of marrying him.

Demi Moore is 15 years older than Ashton Kutcher.

I am 15 years older than Richard Armitage.

Do you suppose M would mind if I put a poster of Richard Armitage up in the bedroom?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Be Afraid.

C hit double digits last month and just in case I had any questions about what the impending teen years would be like, we had the following exchange the other day.

I called him on the cell phone. My number showed up on his screen, so he knew it was me calling. How did he answer the phone?

"Talk to me."

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