Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Trip To Hell

Just a quick update to let folks know what's going on. We've had a slight change of venue since my last post. On Sunday evening, Michael, Cassie, Sam and I arrived in Hell. Well, it may not be Hell for **them** but it's definitely Hell for ME. For the curious, Hell looks a lot like the Hilton Head Marriott Resort in South Carolina. To get here, we had to make a NINE-HOUR CAR TRIP, during which Sam decided to practice her scream-, er, singing skills. She sings very loudly, and several cars pulled off the road ahead of us, thus facilitating our entry in Hell that much more quickly (and yet the trip still seemed to last an eternity; what a paradox!).

We arrived late Sunday evening. I must admit, the scenery in Hell is lovely, but the conditions of my being here are sucky. I am not here because of any sin **I** committed. No, I'm here because I married a geek. Okay, maybe that is sin. Any way, Michael is attending a never-ending geek-fest on aeronautical modeling and simulation. Meanwhile, I am stuck in a hotel room with the kids. Since yesterday afternoon, Sam has running a fever of 103+. She was up all Sunday night and up all last night screaming. She's also been screaming a lot during the day. When Sam's not been screaming, she's been actively trying to dismantle the room (I believe she has a future as a rock star). Cassie has been well-behaved, but is chomping at the bit to go to the lower pits of Hell (i.e. the beach) so she can drown herself in the surf while Sam screams about the sand (to which she is apparently violently allergic).

Meanwhile, I want a shower (to wash away the sands of Hell which have become stuck in my nether-regions), but I can't seem to get one without some disaster occurring while I've got shampoo in my hair. I'd also kill for a decent cup of coffee, but we all know that there is no good coffee in Hell (that's why it's called HELL, right). There is this brown-colored urine the locals call coffee, but it is still actually urine.

While the coffee sucks big time, the food is slightly better. Not because we're eating at any of Hell's fancy restaurants, but because Michael has thoughtfully stocked our hotel room with goodies from the local Piggley Wiggley (yes, there are Piggley Wiggley's in Hell). So while Michael enjoy-, er, endures the string of luncheons and receptions hosted by his geek-fest, the kids and I are surviving on PBJs, bananas, and microwaveable soup (we brought our own microwave just for this purpose).

I had had hopes for wireless internet connection during our stay, but broadband in Hell costs $10 a day and we can only afford one day, so this is it. Not a huge loss though, as I've had dial-up that runs faster than Hell's broadband. In any event, you won't hear from me again until I manage to escape, a feat of daring which involves making another NINE-HOUR CAR DRIVE back through South Carolina, North Carolina, and part of Virginia. Hopefully this will happen on Monday. Oh, did I mention Sam hates car trips? Pray for me.

Of course, my current trials are nothing. Michael's geek-fest is an annual thing, and next year it's being held in a different part of Hell known as Hawaii. Getting there involves a NINE-HOUR trip on a plane. Michael says we're going. I say only he's going... In a shoe box.

Signing off now. See you in a week.


If I ever get out of Hell.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Eulogy for Fritti

Portrait of Fritti Madden

After weeks of feeling sad about his passing, I wanted to take some time to remember the happier moments (and some of the stranger moments) in Fritti's life. I remember the day I first brought Fritti home. I was 23 back then, just moved into my first (and only) apartment with Beetlejuice, my Himalayan cat. BJ was only a few months old and I wanted a second cat to keep him company, since I knew I'd be busy with grad school. Michael and I went to the Montgomery County Humane Society and that's where I found Fritti. He was a scrawny orange tabby who yowled like a banshee the moment he saw me. I don't know what had happened to him prior to arriving at the Humane Society, but his whiskers looked liked someone had clipped them short, making him look a bit like a walrus around the nose. It was a cruel thing to do to a cat. Still, he seemed eager for a human touch and when I put my fingers to the cage, he cuddled right up and started schmoozing.

"Hey baby," he purred. "You know you want to take me home. You look so fiiiiine. I bet you got tuna in your pantry, don't you? You wanna feed me some tuna and I'll purr in your lap?"

Yep, he was a charmer. I remember reading somewhere that when you go to pick out a cat, pick the friendliest one you can find because they make the best pets. Well, they didn't come much friendlier than Fritti and once he glommed on to me, there was no letting go.

I filled out the paperwork and took Fritti home. That's when I found out Fritti hated cars. He howled so loudly on the drive home that three other cars pulled over, thinking we were the police. When we arrived at my apartment, there was a delivery man waiting to unload my new furniture. He said he heard us coming from a mile off and wondered if the building was on fire. I rushed Fritti into the apartment and locked him into the bathroom, not ready to introduce him to BJ while there was heavy furniture being hauled around the place. I had this vision of two cats fighting and screeching and clawing the delivery man to death, causing him to drop my new couch down two flights of stairs where it would crash and become a pile of really expensive splinters. Well, Fritti apparently liked the bathroom about as much as he liked the car and he began to yowl even louder, so much that he almost did scare the delivery guy into dropping my couch. Meanwhile BJ sat outside the bathroom door, sniffing at the crack and going, "What the hell do you have in there, Mama?"

Once I opened the bathroom door and let Fritti out, it became obvious I had worried over nothing. Fritti and BJ did not fight at all. Instead, they became the fastest of friend, even, dare I say it, lovers. Yep, my two boy cats took suck a shine to each other that they would tussle over who got to groom whom. Fritti usually won, bullying BJ into lying still while Fritti licked his head and face. It was way too cute the way they would cuddle up on my brand new couch (which shortly became their new scratching post).

Fritti as a kitten

Fritti as a kitten, and the couch that became his scratching post

Four hours after his arrival to my apartment, we discovered that Fritti had a little digestive tract problem. We called it "the Hershey Squits." He kept leaving small stinky piles in one corner of the apartment, right next to the TV, forcing me to put a litter box there to keep him from permanently staining the carpet. After a few weeks, Fritti's bowels reverted to a more normal state of activity and I was able to move the box, which did not look very pretty sitting in the middle of my living room. However, Fritti was stuck with the name "Shitty Kitty" for the rest of his life.

About that time, a friend gave me my third cat, Lydia. Lydia was another striped tabby, this time black and brown. She was extremely shy and had been bullied horribly by another cat. Naturally, she and Fritti did not get on at all. They hissed and spit at each other, and Lydia hissed and spit even more at BJ who did not look at all like a cat to her (too fluffy - I think she thought he looked more like a walking toilet toupee). But somehow these three cats managed to come to an accord without destroying each other or my one bedroom apartment and we all lived together quite cozily for the next fifteen years.

Lydia, BJ, and Fritti enjoy the fine dining of Chez Madden...

...followed by a breath of fresh air.

I got married a year after getting my three cats, and moved in with Michael. We rented a townhouse that was so much bigger than my apartment it scared all three cats. Fritti was the first to come to grips with his new environment, and soon discovered the joys of running head long down the stairs. His favorite game was to rush into the office at the head of the steps and drop a plastic ring from a milk jug at the doorway. Then he'd prance around while I dangled the milk ring over his head, making these excited chirruping noises (the cat made the noises, not me). Finally, I'd toss the ring down the steps and Fritti would go bounding after it, ten pounds of orange tabby hurtling down the steps like a race horse at the Kentucky Derby. The bit of floor at the foot of the steps was polished wood, and very short. Every time Fritti hit the floor he skidded across it and slammed right into the front door. Whammo! Then he'd stagger to his feet, grab his milk ring and run right back up to do it all over again.

I suspect that it was Fritti who lost Michael's first wedding ring, probably by batting it off the night stand. And I suspect it was Fritti who snapped off the head of the groom on the Lladro wedding statue we had when Michael swore at the cats for losing his ring. I also suspect it was Fritti who killed a small snake and left it lying at the foot of the steps inside our condo, causing me to have a near heart attack. He was the great big hunter after all.

The third year we were married, Michael and I bought a house. The house was even huger than the condo, and it really terrified the cats. It took them a while to get used to having so much space. But they were brave little kitties and pretty soon they were owning the place and letting us live in a small corner of it. Fritti had an allergic reaction to the new carpeting that made him go partially bald. I think it was during this time that he developed his absolute loathing of vets. I took him in for so many appointments, trying to figure out what was going on. Finally, a specialist told me that Fritti was allergic to five hundred different substances and he would have to be given a shot every day for as long as he lived. The vet then demonstrated how to give the shot. It involved wrestling Fritti to the ground, sitting on him, getting a vet assistant to sit on him as well, and then jabbing Fritti in the neck with a long, sharp needle. During this demo, Fritti took a swipe at the vet assistant and nearly severed her thumb from her hand. Afterward, I clearly recall the vet saying to me, "See? That wasn't hard at all. Now you get to give him his shots at home."

Ha. Ha ha. Ha.

But we did. For several weeks, Michael and I took turns sitting on Fritti and giving him shots until one day Michael accidentally gave me the shot instead of Fritti and we decided that enough was of that, because we were tired of fighting with this damned cat.

Fritti eventually re-grew his fur, just in time for his mid-life crisis. Not having enough manly things to do around the house, he took up fighting plastic bags. And lost. I remember late one night hearing this horrendous bashing and smashing going on down in the kitchen. Crash! Bang! Bam! Smash! Then there was a moment of silence followed by the world's most pathetic meow. I dragged myself out of bed and found Fritti standing in the kitchen with a plastic bag wrapped around his waist. He'd managed to kick out the bottom of it, but still couldn't get out of it. The mess in the kitchen was terrible... groceries that Michael had yet to put away laying all over the place... suspicious wet spots on the floor that turned out to be cat pee... cat food bowls upended and Lil' Friskies all over the place. But what really caught my eye were the bloody footprints that ran all over the kitchen and stopped at Fritti. Yep, he'd torn out a claw. It was after midnight, so I bundled him into the car and headed for the nearest emergency vet. On the way there, we came to a traffic jam. In the middle of Poquoson. At midnight. One by one, the cars ahead of me turned off the road until I found myself driving behind a Cesna airplane. Somebody was driving the plane down the highway in the middle of the night, with people running back and forth behind it to let the driver know whether or not he was in danger of hitting the trees on the shoulder with one of the wings.

I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself. I just sat in my car and stared. Even Fritti popped his head up in back and meowed as if to say, "What the hell is this?" Eventually I too turned my car down another road and took the very long way around to the emergency vet. To this day, I have no idea what the hell was going on with that plane.

Fritti survived his torn claw, and went on to live a happy life, although we made sure he never got into a fight with another plastic bag. He took up playing with his catnip toys instead, and occasionally chasing Lydia through the house whenever he was really bored. He kept me company on the nights when Michael was out of town and came to be what I called my boyfriend cat. He was just so manly and so proud; a big old orange faux tom that loved to swagger through the house and stretch out on any surface long enough to accommodate his length. I also often referred to him as the hotdog cat, because of the way he would stretch out and roll around on the floor, proving that he was indeed a slim cat, but a very long one and that was why he weighed a ton.

See, his claws worked just fine after the tragic plastic bag incident.

Fritti, Lydia and BJ were all the great loves of my life, and were a huge comfort to me when I began my struggle with infertility. I know some people joke that infertile women will turn their pets into children, but cats can be so loving and so caring. They know when their owners are hurt and grieving. Fritti always knew when I was down, and would climb into my lap and purr to remind me that he was there to love me. If there is one thing I regret, it's that once I did have children, I didn't have as much time for him any more. Kids have a way of changing things between people and pets. I still loved Fritti and the others for all they were worth, but found my days and nights dominated by a screaming infant. And then another. It wasn't until these last few months that I finally had the time to slow down and appreciate my cats. And those were the hardest months of Fritti's life.

He was still affectionate to the end, although I know he was hurting. I spent as much time as I could with him toward the end, staying with him as he ate, brushing him whenever I had a few free moments. He loved the brushing more than anything else, and would purr just like old times as I groomed him.

Fritti is survived by his fellow house cats, Beetle Juice (aka BJ) and Lydia, as well as his owners, Helen, Michael, Cassie and Sam. He truly left his mark on his family, as well as on the scratching post, the couch, the carpet, the wooden banisters, and several other spots around the house. Helen plans to gather up all the cat fur he left behind and use it to knit an afghan. A very large afghan. Meanwhile, the family continues to remember Fritti fondly by all his many nicknames - Fritz, Fritti-tata, Fritata, Bean Head, Shitty Cat, that Damn Cat, and the Orange Lothario of Luv.

Fritti, you were one of the best boyfriend cats a girl could ever have. Wherever you are now, I hope you're back to your old, suave, handsome self, hot-dogging on the floor and chasing milk rings for all you're worth. I love you and I miss you.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Goodbye Fritti (1992-2007)

I know I've been offline for a while. Three weeks to be exact. Ironic sort of, considering the last line of my last post was "We'll have to see what the next two weeks brings."

My cat, Fritti, did not survive long after that last post. Michael and I took the kids to Maryland that weekend, leaving Fritti at the vet's. They took very good care of him, and when I picked him up on Monday, he seemed fine. Skinny as hell but no worse than when I dropped him off, and actually a little bit better. He'd just been bathed, and though he's not partial to baths, it did improve his appearance some.

However, within a few hours of bringing Fritti home, I noticed that the problem he'd been having with his back left leg had now spread to his back right leg. I called the vet, who said the problem might have been caused by Fritti staying in an enclosed area during the weekend, as opposed to having an entire garage or house to roam around in like he was used to. I decided to give Fritti a day to recover. Perhaps some time to move around would improve the problem. It did not. An hour later when I went to feed him again, he was having problems controlling all four legs. He had to sit to eat, and even then he had trouble keeping his front legs from sliding out from under him.

I did not want to admit it, but it was painfully obvious that the time had come to make a decision. I called the vet again and asked if there was anything else we could do, or if I should just accept that it was time to put Fritti down. The vet's response was that he would be ready to take care of Fritti as soon as I made my decision. Neither a yes or a no. The decision had to be mine. So I went back to the garage and spent a few moments watching Fritti rest in one of his hiding spots. Normally, he would come out of hiding any time I entered the garage. Not this time. I don't think his legs would let him. I went back into the house and called the vet to make the appointment for the next morning.

As soon as I made the call, I returned to the garage and coaxed Fritti out of hiding. No matter what kind of mess he made, my cat was not spending his last night alone in the garage. I put him up in my bedroom with some fresh food and water and a cushy towel to rest on. Then I headed back downstairs. I had made the appointment to have him put down for a time after Cassie left for preschool. At the age of four, I wasn't sure if she would understand what was going on. It would be best, I thought, to simply explain that Fritti had been very ill and so he'd gone to sleep and had simply not woken up. I was going over what I would need to explain to Cassie and what I was going to do the next day before going to the vet when I snagged my foot coming down the steps and fell head over heels to the landing.

I fell a total of four steps and ended up curled around the scratching post we keep on the landing. My left foot was in agony, and I couldn't stand. I had to crawl down the rest of the steps and into the living room to get to the nearest phone. Fortunately Sam was still asleep in her crib, but it was almost time for her to wake up so we could pick up Cassie at preschool. I tried calling Michael first but couldn't get through. He was tied up in a teleconference. My next door neighbor wasn't in either. So I called my best friend Mary, who just happens to be a nurse. She had just walked in the door when the phone rang. And she walked out the moment she understood I was incapacitated.

Mary made it to my house in fifteen minutes. She got me bandaged up and put plenty of ice on my foot, then fetched the crutches from the garage. By that point I had finally managed to get a hold of Michael and explain to him that I had probably broken my foot. Would he please pick up Cassie and bring her home? Yes. While Michael headed off to the preschool, Mary helped me upstairs to take care of Sam. As soon as Michael and Cassie arrived home, we all piled into our cars and headed over to Mary's house, leaving poor Fritti hiding under my bed. Mary took care of the kids while Michael and I headed out to the nearest urgent care center.

Fortunately, I did not break anything, although I had managed to badly sprain my foot. The doctor at the urgent care center was quite surprised that I hadn't wiped out a hip, knee, or ankle in the process. He gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and sent me on my way. We spent an hour at the pharmacy waiting for my prescription, another hour at Mary's eating dinner, and then we all headed home.

I slept fitfully through the night. My foot hurt like hell and I had to keep it propped up to reduce the swelling. I could have taken a pain killer for it, but decided against it because painkillers usually to make me feel worse, not better. Throughout the night, I heard Fritti creep around the room. He would drag himself ten steps then lie down and rest. Another ten steps, another rest. He moved very slowly, and in the dark I couldn't really tell if he was lying down or falling down at the end of each short walk. I wasn't even sure why he was moving around at all, since he didn't touch his food or water.

We woke up late the next morning. Michael got Cassie up and ready for preschool, then came back to help me with Sam and Fritti. Fritti spent the morning by the dining room table where we laid him. After breakfast Michael pulled out the camera and had me sit with Fritti on the couch for one last picture. I'm torn over that. Fritti was so ill, I didn't want to remember him like that, but it was also the last time I would ever get to take his picture. After the photo, Michael brought out the cat carrier and put Fritti in. He fought a bit, but not as much as he would have when he was well. It was only a two minute drive to the vet, and then we waited in the examining room while Fritti lay on the floor.

By that point he was obviously miserable. He wouldn’t get up and hide like he normally would have for a vet visit. He just lay by the wall, panting. I lowered myself to the floor to spend a few more moments scratching him behind the ears. When the vet came in, Sam started to fuss so Michael took her out. I stayed behind and watched the vet very carefully put Fritti on the examining table. The assistant held Fritti steady while the vet pulled out a needle. Fritti didn't fight it. He simply lay there. The needle went it and that was it. It all happened so quickly Fritti didn't even have time to close his eyes. He just simply passed away.

The vet and the assistant left, giving me a last few minutes with Fritti. I couldn't believe he was gone. His eyes were still so wide and clear. I scratched him behind his ears and kissed his head and I cried. I stayed in the examining room until I realized that Fritti's eyes were finally starting to dim. Then I gave him one more kiss and left.

That was almost three weeks ago, and I still cry every time I think about it. We had Fritti cremated, and now his ashes sit in a white acrylic box on my bookshelf. It even has his name on it. It breaks my heart to look at it. All I can think of is how much I miss that bone-headed cat, and how frightfully ill he was at the end. I'm still working on a proper eulogy for Fritti, something that covers the happier moments of his life. I will post that when it's done.