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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye, 2016. You Were Unexpected.

I can't think of a better word. The weather returned to normal, but the Kansas wind blew plenty of change in with it.

I was promoted in an unexpected fashion. It's been a learning curve, but not as steep as, say, learning to drive. I dare to think it's gone fairly well.

I began the countdown to paying off my mortgage. It's never seemed more possible.

Life without Farmville created Bible study time, and I read the whole thing this year without skipping. I plan to focus on the New Testament in 2017. I've always preferred the Old Testament, so it's time to branch out.

The city code violation reminded me how much I like working in The Swamp, front or back. It got me in shape, it got me meeting my neighbors, and it got me a chipper/shredder that makes my heart sing and my compost pile grow.

I returned to church. It's been a while.

I was happy Trump won. I didn't expect it, I tried very hard to be OK with whatever would happen as God's will - permissive or directed - but I was pleased the election went that way. Donald is no saint by any stretch of the imagination, but he's way funnier than Hillary.

You would think losing four dear friends in seventeen days would be enough to make me curse this year, but it hasn't. God loaned them to me, and he took them back. I wish it hadn't been quite so one-after-the-other, but I don't know that any way would have been easier. I find myself embracing stoicism.

Despite the roller-coaster ride of stress that was 2016, I dare to face the new year with a sense of hope. Not because things can't get worse. They can always get worse. More that God has seen me this far, and I don't think he's going to leave me now. This may just be the year I lean into God's love instead of hairy-eyeballing it.

May the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction, comfort you abundantly, both in what has passed and what is to come. May he comfort us all and bind us together by his Spirit.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Empty Explanations

It's grown very quiet in the Turtle household. Caleb was my main talker, with an astounding variety of chirps, trills, squeaks, and yowls as running commentary. Sweetie panted all the time (thanks to her advancing years and thickening of heart and lungs) and occasionally barked at a rabbit outside. Simon complained about stuff. Toffee made all kinds of weird noises.

More than once, I considered making a recording of the sounds of the Turtle household. Not sure if I'm glad I didn't.

The remaining three only open their mouths to complain about lack of food. I should be happy about that.

Simon died of intestinal cancer. I'd known something was wrong with him since July. It just took that long to manifest. Sweetie died of lymphoma. She'd been getting weaker for a while, especially in her back legs, so when I felt the lumps in her throat, I knew. The last days were sudden, but the result was expected.

Caleb came out of left field. It now seems he was dead when I took him to the emergency vet that Saturday; we just didn't know it. The treatment that should have worked to flush out the toxins in his kidneys and restored him to stable health and maintenance didn't work on him. The vet suspects cancer was at the root. He was eight, and I'd planned a longer life together. He is the one I'm having the hardest time not being bitter about.

Toffee was my fault. I killed her because I couldn't live with her grief, and I couldn't find a solution for it after seventeen days. She was fifteen, stopped eating in October, and had to be coaxed back. She got better while Simon got worse. After Simon died, she started screaming at night as only a Siamese can scream, for hours at a time, with no obvious trigger or solution. My only weak defense is I truly thought that something physical was wrong with her, something that would take a while to find, like it did with Simon. Something terminal. Maybe I was right, but I'll never know, because she's dead.

I have never believed in killing an animal for convenience, any more than I believe in killing babies for convenience, and I regret the decision hourly. She's having her revenge, though, because she's haunting me. I see her at the table waiting to lick my breakfast bowl. Peering around the door into the kitchen. Sleeping near me or in my chair when I get up. Blinking at me from behind the curtain as I open it for the day. After twelve years of living here, her absence has riddled this house with holes.

I remember when she came, she stayed in the basement, terrified. She'd been traumatized by a Lhasa Apso in a foster home between living with mom and living with me. I knew I could either have a cat that lived in the basement, or I could have a cat I who lived with me, so I spent weeks digging her out of her hidey holes and bringing her upstairs to learn that it wasn't scary up here in the sunlight.

I now have a chair no one sits in, because only Sweetie sat there for nine years. I now have beds that no one uses because the remaining three no longer need to go "up" to get away from the crazy. No one meets me at the door like Caleb and Simon did, and no one says good-bye when I leave.

Stress is the cause, if you need a cause. Seven animals who do not get along cannot live in the same tiny space for eight years without consequences. The consequences are cancer, and kidney failure, and inconsolable grief. I wish someone would kill me, too, because I can't self-terminate.

The remaining three have noticed the absences. I don't know if they're talking amongst themselves or not, but I am walking on eggshells, afraid to make any move that might disrupt the current calm and send someone else into a death spiral. I would predict Skamper, except Caleb had no symptoms until he did. I'm frankly afraid to draw close to them, as if my attention will mark them out for annihilation.

It has been 19 days since the first death, and 2 days since Toffee. I'm only just starting to process some of it, in my dreams of all places. Long dead people are visiting me nightly, now that I can sleep more than an hour at a time.

I must adapt. I cannot be Toffee. I cannot live buried in grief or, worse, fearing the next death. Because there will be more death. That's how life works. None of us are getting out alive.

I hope Toffee will forgive me. I hope she is happy now, and her bad wiring has finally been repaired. I hope by writing this I will gain some peace in confession. I promise you, no one can judge me more harshly than I judge myself.

I'm sorry. I hate when people tell me their horror stories just because I have gone through something horrific. As if sharing their pain with me makes my pain less. Why would I feel better because you've also had trouble? What kind of monster do you think I am to rejoice in your grief? Maybe this is one of those normal people things I don't get.

Anyway, thanks for listening. Despise me if you want. I have no defense.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Toffee Turtle

My heart is filled with silence. My friend stopped running today.
Matt 2:18 

Friday, December 23, 2016


When people of good heart see someone in pain, they want to do something to help. They want to lend support, bring meals, give hugs or chocolate or both. They want to make the pain stop.

I wish to thank all my friends, family and co-workers - for thinking of me, for praying for me and mine, and for wanting to help.

Like Little Brother, I will repel your advances. I cannot be cuddled. I cannot be gifted out of grief. I will accept chocolate for later, but I have no stomach for it now. I cannot talk about this with you right now. I cannot cry in front of you.

I know this is not typical. Most people seem to find comfort in other people. I assume this is why they marry and have families.

Friendship has a shape. It has weight. It displaces volume. When a friend is ripped away, a hole is left. Nothing but that friend fits that hole. Other friends can gather close and press against that hole, but they don't fill it.

Grief is the process of transferring the shape that used to walk across the bed into a shape that walks across the heart only, until we all meet again on the Last Day.

I am not despairing. I am not contemplating self-harm. I am not cursing God. I am missing my friends.

Thank God grief, even intense grief, cannot be sustained. I will have periods of distress and periods of calm, and one will grow shorter while the other grows longer. Grief comes in like the tide, but it rolls out again, too.

Thank you all for your love. I value it. If you must do something, show love to each other all the more. You never know when a hole will come.

Keep the faith.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Caleb Turtle

My heart is filled with silence. My best friend stopped running today. 

Job 1:21 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


That's my life this year. Waiting.

Waiting to figure out what was wrong with Simon. Waiting for the election with the same hyper-alertness I usually reserve for severe weather outbreak days. Waiting for information on Second Dad. Waiting for Sweetie's fatty tumors to turn malignant.

The waiting is over for those issues, except for Second Dad, but that has turned into waiting with treatments.

Now, waiting for Caleb to heal or die.

Those are the choices, really. Because if his medical condition was kidney infection triggered by the stress of losing housemates and a grieving human, I have four other potential patients living in this house, and I cannot afford emergency or long-term treatment for all of them.

So I wait for enough time to pass to get a clear blood test to confirm kidney infection vs disease. I wait for Caleb to decide what food he will eat, and I wait to see if he can keep it down. I wait for him to pee normally, and I wait for him to stop peeing and require further medical intervention. I choose to wait, and I wait to choose.

I wait for Toffee to either stop screaming at two hour intervals all night or for it to happen long enough that I kill her because sleep deprivation has deprived me of all reason. There is no way to muffle a yowling Siamese in an 823 square foot house.

I wait for Skamper to fall ill, since he is the one who should be having bladder problems. I can't afford it if he does, so I'm basically waiting for him to die, too.

This is an extremely whiny post, and more than a little self-pitying. I apologize. I hope by writing it down, I remove its power over me.

I am not a fighter. If God wants to remove my cats, I can't stop him, and I won't try anymore. I could be down to two by Spring.

I am currently waiting for a Feliway multi-cat stress-reducing pheromone dispenser to arrive. Then I must wait to see if it works.

Dear God, let it work.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sweetie Turtle

My heart is filled with silence. My friend stopped running today. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Aslan's Country

I knew Simon was unwell. I didn't realize how much of our lives were Simon-focused this year.

The house is quiet, but it is a peaceful quiet (except when Skamper is flexing his new Chief Noodlehead muscles). No vulturing. No crying for food that won't be eaten. No open door escape attempts. No multiple nightly feedings. No straining to hear the warning growls that presage a dangerous cat fight. No charting of food that stays down and food that doesn't.

We had a good last day. I'm grateful we gave him anesthetic before the last shot. While we waited for the anesthetic to take effect, the vet asked, "isn't this the one you always have a story about?" Yes. Yes, he is. Even his last visit was a story. His nerves kept firing for a while, and my vet said he could have been the one in a thousand cats that has a seizure had he not been asleep. It would have been just like him to cause trouble, so I'm glad we didn't have to go through that.

It occurred to me that Simon and I are much like Reepicheep and Lucy. I've always wanted to cuddle with him, but his natural dignity and independence simply wouldn't allow it. He's a warrior who protects the weak and puts the bully in his place. Perhaps his exploration of every opening was a lifelong search for the door to Aslan's country.

I see him there, vulturing at the gate, inspecting the newcomers and pointing the way inward and upward. Chatting up the ladies and sizing up the gentlemen as he waits for his friends to arrive.

Good journey, Little Brother. See you on the other side.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Simon Theodore Turtle

My heart is filled with silence. My friend stopped running today.

2 Samuel 12:23

My Simon

One thing Timmi taught me is just because I can doesn't mean I should. Yes, Ian Malcolm taught me that about cloning dinosaurs, but Timmi taught me that about cats.

I kept Timmi with me far longer than I should have because I couldn't let her go. She never complained, and I couldn't have chosen differently at the time, but I will choose differently now.

Simon will not get better. We might squeeze out another month or two, but I can tell he's not comfortable. I don't know that it's extreme pain (it's hard to tell with cats) but it's bothering him.

We'll say good-bye today. Mom is going with us because, as she says, "I was there the first time. I'll be there the last time."

I wish I had solid biblical evidence that I will see him again. I have inferences, and a hope that I will, but the truth is, I don't know for sure. It bothers me a lot. I am choosing to believe that God has bigger plans for all of us in our new Heaven and new Earth, and those plans include my fur friends.

As My Dear Friend once assured me, "It's Heaven. Of course it's big enough."

I will imagine Simon jumping through green fields of soft grass, chasing things that can't die when he catches them - Tribble the rabbit, the now flying fish Ferghani Shen Tsu, Merry, Pippin and Fatty Bolger, ferrets Loki, Freya, Oden-Thor, Rafiki, Tasselhoff and Tandy, and maybe even little Flutterby the moth; meeting Sugar and Timmi, Shawn, Ceaser, Snuffy, Tasha, Tamaran, and Sassy Sasha, and Kneesa, Sera and Wicket; reuniting with Hachiko, Jasper and Mica; sharing stories about how I've grown up, and how much I miss them all and look forward to seeing them again. I'm sure if he could, Simon would break something in the mansion Jesus is preparing for me, just to remind me I'm not all that.

Oh, I will miss my Little Brother. He brought me back to life twelve years ago. I haven't always appreciated how he did it, but he did it. I'm so sorry for all the times I've yelled, and misunderstood, and ignored. I'm so glad for the times we cuddled, and for your silly growly meow, and for The Paw in my cereal, even when you don't eat cereal, Noodlehead. I'm glad we had those sunny times in The Swamp.

I will never know anyone else like you, heart-brother. You earned many names but you will always be my Simon.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Names of Simon: Chunky Monkey

For most of his life, Simon has been my Chunky Monkey.

Simon is what vets call "a competitive eater." This means he will eat everything in the bowl, puke it up, and eat it again. He used to race the dog whenever that horrific uk-ka uk-ka uk-ka noise started elsewhere.

Aside: I do not allow anyone to eat puke if I am there to stop it. Ick, and beyond ick.

Even though he rarely ate Human Food (touching and tasting with The Paw didn't count), he roamed the house searching for any morsel of dog or cat food that might have been overlooked. It's possible all his interest in open doors might stem from looking for the next meal.

One terrifying time, he slipped out the back door to chase a stray tom. They raced around the neighbor's house, and the stray darted through the space between the privacy gate and the main fence. Simon tried to follow and did one of those cartoon blubber-bounce-backs (think Mr. Incredible in the rocket tube). I thank God for it; it was the only way I would have caught him. He was big, but fast.

Three or four years ago he topped out at 19 lbs. This on a 13 lb frame. The dieting began in earnest. The hardest part was Hungry Simon was even more vicious than Fat Simon. Balancing between what was healthy for him and what was healthy for the household was almost more than I could handle.

As the weight came off, he resumed some obnoxious behavior I'd forgotten. Jumping on top of the fridge when there wasn't room. Chasing the others off the catwalks. Nearly jumping into the electric skillet. Jumping anywhere, really.

Which is why his weight loss was so flummoxing. I'd always expected diabetes to kill Simon, not intestinal cancer.

My Chunky Monkey will finish his race at 9.3 pounds. He's never looked better. I've never been sorrier.

The Names of Simon: Uncle Simon

The crying has stopped for the moment. It may be the top of the grief wave or dehydration, but I'll take it.

Since his diagnosis, Simon has been feeling better, which means he's behaving like a royal jackass. Rather than go to bed last night, he vultured me until I gave him food he didn't want, fell into and toppled the trash can trying to get to dog food he can't have, tipped over a box that hadn't been in that space before, and tried to pick a fight with Caleb.

I'm grateful for this. Such antics make it easier to say good-bye. The date is set.

I woke after midnight to him hogging the bed. I only got it back after I fed him.

I had two dogs when Simon came to us: Hachiko, my Akita dog-nephew, and Jasper, known to some of you through Star of Justice. Simon was fostered with three German shepherds and he loved my dogs. He was not their uncle.

He did not turn Toffee into a normal cat, but he did get along with her. They often slept close to each other, and occasionally cuddled. He was not her uncle.

When I took in the feral kids, Skuttle and Skamper, Simon took Skuttle under his paw immediately and began teaching her every rotten trick he knew. He became Uncle Simon.

Skamper is a Mama's Boy, so it worked out.

When Simon fell behind the fridge and was too fat to either jump or squeeze out, Skuttle followed him down and stayed with him until I finally figured out where two cats could hide in my house for 40 MINUTES OF SEARCHING. I wish I'd had a phone for that pic of Simon's eye looking at me through the half inch gap between the fridge and the wall.

Skuttle learned that houseguests aren't scary because Uncle Simon never ran from them. Skuttle learned that one paw could sneak cereal out of the bowl before the Scary Hooman noticed and moved the bowl. When brother Skamper annoyed either girl, Uncle Simon came to the rescue and made him behave.

I'm frankly worried about the Turtle Household with Skamper in charge.

Simon watches out for Miss Kitty, too, and she is the only cat that can play with him. He is a perfect gentlemen with the girls, but he a real a$$ to the boys. Caleb takes the brunt because he and Simon are both bush cats and Caleb doesn't jump out of the way like Skamper does (Skamper is a tree cat). Before he got sick, we had a fur-flying fight every two to four weeks. There's a reason lion prides have one boy and a bunch of girls.

I used to get angry at Simon for fighting with the boys. Until I realized he was doing what Dad did for Mom in the old days by letting me know the Turtle Household was closed to new cat members. We had enough. He was absolutely right, and I have thanked him many times for being so sensible. Six cats are too many for one tiny house.

I wish he wasn't leaving us so soon, but I hope that his absence will alleviate some tension. I desperately hope Skuttle will adjust to his absence. I hope even more fervently she will not take his place as the Master of Jackassery of the family.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Names of Simon: The Paw

I've explained why Simon Theodore is Little Brother. In fact, if I read him my last two posts, I'm certain he would roll his eyes and give me a "being a little melodramatic, aren't we?" mrrow. Much as my human brothers are no doubt doing (and I appreciate their silence on the matter). He is more sibling than child.

The Paw in action. 
One of Simon's odd former-stray habits is touching things.

I've read that outside cats will test the waters with one paw in case a new experience isn't safe. For Simon, it's the right paw, and he puts it everywhere.

It goes into the water dish first, followed, not by a test lick, oh no, but by a vigorous shake that shares the wealth. For a cat who doesn't like to have wet hands shaken at him, he can dish it out.

The Paw has shown up in my spaghetti, cereal bowl and once, my hot chocolate. I learned to eat around it because I wasn't throwing an entire dinner away for one touch. The only people food he ever truly liked was Bolthouse Farms Mocha Cappucino, and I would put his little sip into a mug wide enough for his head so he didn't have to use The Paw.

The Paw is the pre-cursor to a cat fight, so that's one sign the Turtle reads quite well when she's home. She's found evidence of The Paw stuck in Caleb's back as shed nails.

The Paw has rested quietly on my cheek at 2 AM, insisting breakfast is now, not three hours from now. The claws don't come out until 4:30.

The Paw has something to say about my art projects and reading habits. Mostly "Hello, you should be paying attention to the rest of me over here. I'm far more interesting than whatever that is."

Simon Theodore, The Paw. Tomorrow, I'll tell you about Uncle Simon.

A Tale of Two Cats, part Two

I adopted Simon from the Petsmart Adoption Program. He had been a resident of a more rural animal shelter and a foster mom enrolled him in the program to save his life. Momma Turtle met him first, and pointed him out to me.

I didn't want another cat. Timmi's death had eviscerated me, and I had no desire to love anything else with fur. Since Toffee had a screw loose, I had no concerns about getting attached to her. However, there was a possibility that hanging with a more normal cat might level Toffee out, and this big black weirdo had been sitting there so long, waiting. I adopted Simon.

It was touch-and-go the first month. More than once I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

He was stand-offish. Timmi had literally been in my lap every time I sat down. Simon sat one piece of furniture away, at my eye level, and stared at me. We call it "vulturing." Sometimes this is what he wanted to do. Sometimes he wanted my attention, and if I didn't figure out the difference, he knocked pictures off the wall to explain it.

At 2 AM, he became a cuddle-whore. I've heard men are like that.

He has never met a door he didn't try to go through, or a space he didn't try to fill. More than once he spent the day in a closet I didn't realize he'd snuck into while I pulled out a coat, shirt or pair of pants. Once he almost got sealed into the bathtub while the plumber was working on it. Did you know bathtubs are hollow? Thank God for that.

He liked Hide and Seek. I would realize he wasn't staring at me or coming out for food and drop everything to search my 823 square foot house for a fifteen pound black cat who refused to help by calling back to me. More than once I feared he'd somehow snuck outside while the door was closed and locked and my back was turned. He'd be staring at me from on top of something or under something, laughing, I'm sure.

These kinds of exasperating shenanigans earned him the name Little Brother. Like the little brother who follows you around and breaks your toys and irritates the snot out of you until he falls asleep and then looks like an angel so you don't kill him.

This also led to the Simon Alvin Theodore! I would yell when he knocked something off the counter to get my attention. That was eventually shortened to Simon Theodore, which is more lyrical.

The best part is he helped me live through losing Timmi. I stopped crying every night because Simon was there to be ridiculous and exasperating and hilarious and impossible. Simon touched a different part of my heart, a part that didn't hurt. He was my little brother, not my baby, and he had needs, too. Needs involving play and eating and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Simon has been losing weight since summer, and the vet has finally found evidence of a tumor in his intestines. He's lost a pound in the last two weeks, so his time with me is short. Very, very soon, we will close this chapter together, and wait impatiently for our reunion in the sequel.

I dug his grave this last weekend, because I could feel him slipping away, and the ground will freeze soon. I wish I'd been wrong.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Tale of Two Cats

I intend to blog about Simon Theodore, aka Little Brother, aka Uncle Simon, aka The Paw, but before I tell you about him, I have to tell you about the First Cat of the Turtle Household.

Once upon a time, the Turtle had only one cat. Her name was Timmi, and she would tolerate no competition.

Some of you may be wondering about Sugar, but she was a fursibling, not a furbaby.

Timmi came from the vet, and originally from the VA. She had been adopted as a kitten from a lady who died shortly thereafter, and the family intended to have her put down. Nice family. She stayed at the vet's for 3 months before I adopted her at six months old. Yeah, real nice family. Her one redeeming feature was a long, fluffy tail.

I am a sucker for a fluffy tail. Timmi lived before smart phones, so I have very few pictures of her. She wasn't terribly photogenic anyway. I drew a lovely one and finished it in marker. This is what her soul looked like.

I hear Big Brother laughing at me.

Timmi was a snuggler. She wanted to be carried around like a baby, and she slept in my lap whenever I sat down. Much of Star of Justice was written with Timmi in my lap.

Timmi was a sickly cat. Around seven years old she got sick enough to stop eating, seriously enough that the liver got involved and I resorted to a feeding tube until she recovered. She used up all nine of her lives before she was done, and I am convinced that on one occasion God miraculously healed her.

Eventually, her colon stopped working, and there was nothing more to be done. Somewhere around the age of thirteen, Timmi took the Long Step and broke my heart. I think this happened in late 2004, early 2005. I'd have to check my records and I don't really want to.

I had been mourning her sickness and dreading her passing for years. I had no idea how hard it would be to lose her for real until it happened.

A house with one needy cat became a house with no cat at all. I came home every night and wept for hours, pretty much every time I sat down and she wasn't there.

Mom needed to break up her two stray Siamese sisters, so Toffee came to live with me (after an unsuccessful re-homing attempt with a former neighbor). Although Toffee was needy, she was no Timmi, and the crying continued. For months.

Then, in July 2005, came Simon.