July 2nd, 1998
Woody died around 2:30 in the morning of July 2nd, in my car when I was on the way looking for a night hospital. I think it was a clot in the artery.
It was a horrible moment to experience. The worse thing was that I did not even know that he was dying. First I noticed that he was limping, and I thought that he sprang an ankle. I took him to his regular night hospital but found that it was not open 24 hours anymore. So I thought I would take him home and wait with him the next few hours and then take him to the vet first thing in the morning.
I had him sleeping under my desk, and then he started dying. Slowly he lost the use of his rear legs completely, but I only thought that he was avoiding a sore spot. He screamed a number of times. I wonder if he was calling for me, or that he was just puzzled because his rear legs were not moving anymore. I examined his front paws, at which point he arched back, as if to stretch, and his eyes were wide open, as if there was life in his eyes again. My happiness turned to horror when his head continued to lean back, as if something was approaching his face, and he was not blinking. I let go of his hands, and in what was almost like a jumping motion, he contracted even further, even though he was lying on his right side.
I ran upstairs, found a phonebook, and found a night hospital in a neighborhood that I knew, and then took him in the car. Like I always do, I repeated his name while we were in the car. He's usually very chatty, so when he was not joining me in going back and forth with me, I knew that he was gone. I turned on the interior lights in the car and saw that his eyes were not blinking. I took an exit off the freeway, and leaned forward to close his eyes at the next traffic light. The first thing that came to me was to thank him for spending his life with me. I then told him that it was going to be alright, and he should concentrate on the new journey ahead. I cried on the way home, but I tried to keep it quiet and peaceful for him.
When I got home, I lifted his body out of the car, and it was so soft that his head dropped as I picked him up. That gave me hope, and I reached to feel his heart, which was still warm. I cried in silence when I realized that my last hope was gone. I placed his body on the few towels I prepared for him earlier in the evening when I thought that he might be cold. The towel on top was my wife's blue shower towel, which was the one he was wrapped in when he passed away in the car. I sat and talked to him for a while. Then I went out and dug a grave under the flower bed in the dark. I then came back into the house to wait for the morning to come, and for his body to cool. I fixed up his whiskers on the side of his face on which he was resting, and found some drool on my fingers. I checked and found no excrement, and realized that he died a dignified death. His eyes were closed, and he looked like he was very focused in one of his favorite hunting dreams.
When morning came, I covered him with the few sheets of Kleenex which had my tears from sitting with his body in his last hours, and wrapped him up in the towel. He has always loved our scent so it was fitting to wrap him in my wife's towel. I played with his front paws, which were still soft and flexible. I put him in the hole and dirt fell on his face, and I instinctively apologized to him for the dirt on his face. I adjusted the towel to cover his face, but his ears still stuck out. I dropped three purple flowers on the towel, and then could not bring myself to cover up the grave. Instead I walked around the yard, and started clearing weeds. While I was clearing the weeds, I remembered that sensation of suddenly discovering that he was walking with me in the yard most times I was out there in the past, as close as even yesterday. I then sat on the deck for a while, and as the morning lighted up the garden even further, I decided that it was time to cover up the grave before the sun should visit the inside of his grave. As the dirt fell onto the blue towel, it made a "tug tug" sound. First the flowers were covered, then his ears disappeared from sight. There was more dirt than the volume of the hole, so the dirt piled up above ground. I placed a piece of rock on top of the grave.
Today, instead of relaxing on the deck in the sun, Woody lies three feet under ground, in a cold, cloudy, foggy day, under the occasional Daly City drizzle. He had a great time in his nine years of existence in this world, rain or shine, or even in storms. He was a very smart cat, full of his own ideas on how to do things, and often despised us for not understanding, or for our undue sense of urgency.
He has always been majestic, even to the point of being aloof. Sometimes he would not greet us when we ran into him on the streets, as if to be associated with us was not worth his play time. When we caught him doing something wrong, such as scratching the furniture, he would give us an annoyed but a very alert look, ran as fast as he could, and then regained his composure as soon as he was more or less five feet away from us. He would then proceed to walk calmly with his back facing us, or he would just sit down right on the spot, and resume his never-ending personal grooming.
He was a leader, boldly went places where no other cats have gone before. He had a pile of dung on my roof because he found it unique and fitting. He would balance himself on a dangling fence destroyed by a storm, and proceeded to take a nap under the sun, waving in the wind with the fence. Often he would lead the way as I mow the lawn, staying as little as three feet ahead of the lawn mower, with his tail pointing up showing full confidence.
He was sociable and friendly to other cats who frequented his back yard, and yet savvy enough to be able to share the space and enjoy the sun with the beefy and mean stray cats lying next to him, within a distance reserved only for acquaintances on good terms according to feline etiquette.
Every now and then, he would take time out of his schedule to check on us, rubbing his shoulders on our legs, or even leaving us goodies in the kitchen floor, like a bird or a baby rabbit. But he understood our dislike, and stopped doing it after seeing that we were not able to appreciate his taste for fresh meat with attached fur or feather.
Woody was both smart and eloquent. He answered to his name, and always had something to say just to engage me in conversations. I gave him a name, and he gave me a name, too. He called me "iarngk", a sound he reserved just for greeting me. He was never taxed for speech: when words did not add value to the situation at hand, he would keep them to himself. Often on a good sunny day, I would be calling him, only to find that he was looking at me from somewhere above my head, such as a roof top or the make-shift cribwork that my neighbor set up to paint his house. On rainy days, I would open the door to let him out, he would look and study the pouring rain, and then instead of going out the door, he would turn slowly and retreat back into the garage in silence. On the other hand, on less rainy days, sometimes he would take a chance and run out, and then if he decided to come right back in, he would make a long mooooeeew as he was running back, as if to say "hold that door for a second". If while I was out he was trapped in the rain and had to hide under the neighbor's deck, he would respond to my call when I opened the door, and called me with a long "ngoooouh!" in an assertive tone, just to make sure that I heard him.
Woody was a thinking cat. He knew that his paws would cut me, so he made an effort to fold up his paws when he sat on my lap. Sometimes I would lift him high up in the air, and he would not waste a beat in using the chance to survey the landscape from that high ground above my head. We also have a game of collaborate stretching. I would lift him up half way from behind, and then he would stand on his rear legs and stretch, extending his hands towards my face while staring me in the eyes. He observed how raccoons would climb up lamp posts to go from one roof top to another, and he gave it a try. He examined a lamp post for a few seconds, jumped and held on to it, and started climbing vertically up. When he reached about my head level, he looked back, gave it a moment of thought, and proceeded to back down, still with his head facing up. After he figured out how it worked that time, he never tried it again.
He was always upbeat and relaxed about life. Once, he had a cut on his face about an inch long, and had to wear a tube to drain the fluids inside. He ate a lot and slept a lot, and recovered in no time. The incident did not leave a scar on his face, or in his behavior. He found my feeding of the medicine annoying, but he was patient; he withstood it and continued to trust me. In another similar injury, he had to wear a funnel-shaped cup on his neck to prevent him from scratching open a wound on the head. He was at first puzzled by it, because from his perspective he was inside a tube. He tried backing out of it, and then tried going around it. Realizing that the tube was part of him, he got used to it in just a few minutes, and was soon running around at full speed and making jumps as if he was born with this man-made hindrance.
I was very confused this afternoon when I woke up, not realizing whether his departure was just a bad dream. Now as I look through the glass door next to my desk, how I wish he was on the other side of the door, demanding me to open that door just for one more time. In place of that, I replayed my memories of him while staring at his grave. In order for me to function again, this grief needs to pass, for as Shakespeare observed, "moderate lamentation is the right of the dead, excessive grief the enemy to the living".
I am convinced that in his final moments, before he finally gave in to neurogenic pulses grasping for his last breath, he was attempting to leave me with good thoughts and good words. He used his last jump to jump on the box by the glass door, just so I could see him. For that I shall remember him for the rest of my days. Throughout the nine years that I was blessed with his colorful companionship, he has brought me joy, excitement, laughters, amazement and puzzlement. Woody never failed to bring out the human inside me, and he was always able to bring a smile to my face whatever the occasion or mischief. He will always be remembered, and he will always speak to me in all the good poetry that I shall read.
Copyright © 1998-1999, Kam Tsang. All Rights Reserved.