Alvin Motor Bean Eichhörnchen
April 1, 2010 – November 13, 2013
Alvin Motor Bean Eichhörnchen
These are but a few of the names that M Fox and I used to refer to one of our kitties. You’ll notice that “Little” comes before a lot of them. Although certainly a term of endearment, the fact is that Alvin, most referred to as “the baby,” was always very small. He always had a kitten face. He had soft kitten fur. The smell of his neck fur still had that kitten smell. I loved to bury my face in his scruff and inhale it, the way some mothers describe craving the intoxicating scent of her newborn.
I was going through an Orson Scott Card kick at the time, hence Alvin (from the Alvin Maker series) and Bean (from Ender’s Shadow). Motor was both part of his origin story (he was found in a car engine) and because he had a very big purr for such a little body. Eichhörnchen is German for squirrel.
Sidebar: Neither M Fox nor I speak German, but M Fox had German housemates once and they all bonded over how it was impossible for Americans to pronounce “eichhörnchen” and damn near impossible for Germans to say “squirrel.”
Physically, the baby’s most defining attribute was his tail. His tail was so long that it almost folded in half when sticking up. As a kitten, he resembled one of those little black squirrels.
When he would “bun” around the house, it was like he had no control over his tail. He would be in a perfect little cat bun and his long ridiculous tail would stick straight out behind him, like a lollypop stick. As he got a little older, he figured out how to wrap it around him. Stretching, he reminded us of the classic Halloween black cat, back arched, bottle brush tail at attention.
We never could decide on a name, so we kept them all and added more — when we got him at 10 weeks, he already had two names from the shelter (Mr. Cheeps, then Gusto, which they pronounced Cousteau for some reason). It all seems very fitting that he was born on April Fool’s Day.
When we first got him home and released him into our small Mountain View apartment, he joyfully raced back and forth the length of the apartment, exhilarated. I remember feeling so filled with love and pride that I got to witness our baby discovering that he could run.
Having already been denied the opportunity to potty train the new kitten, M Fox wanted to teach him to ride on people’s shoulders. Even though he was a little squink of a thing, the baby’s paws were huge. We always thought he was going to turn out to be one of those massive cats — he did look a little like a Maine Coon. We used to laugh about how it was cute now, when he was little, but when he became a massive beast of a cat, shoulder-riding would be onerous. We didn’t know he would pretty much stop growing at a year old.
There were other perils to teaching the baby to shoulder ride. M Fox would reward him with treats when he got into the right position, so unfortunately this meant that he really wanted to be up on a shoulder constantly. His willingness to scale a standing human being, while purring, ignoring the screaming and writhing of his obstacle, became a hazard for guests in our house. In one particularly memorable instance, my poor mother walked by the chair where M Fox usually got the baby to climb on and the baby took a flying leap at her, half-missed, and scraped her allllll the way back down the floor, ripping her white blouse and leaving little red specks of blood.
I told M Fox to cool it on the shoulder riding for awhile.
The baby was fearless, dauntless. He loved water. He joined us in the shower, he liked to use me as an island in the bathtub so he could lap the bathwater (kinda gross now that I think about it). We had a fish tank for awhile (a horrible, horrible idea) and he would drink from the tank instead of his water bowl. If you were washing your hands, he saw no reason not to be involved. If you got irritated with him and batted him away or tossed him off the sink, he was back within seconds. “It’s cool, you just mistakenly picked me up and put me on the ground, but I’m back, so no worries.”
When we moved to Seattle, we took the cats on the plane with us. We were both very nervous when we found that in order to get the cats through security, you had to take them out of their carriers and hold them while walking through the scanners. Then you had to let go with one hand while they dusted you for explosives (I had a very cynical “The terrorists have won” moment right then). So there we were, each clinging one-handed to a disoriented cat in the echoing expanse of the San Jose airport while getting patted down. The baby took it well, clutching me while staring around wide-eyed and curious. (Squeak, our other cat, was terrorized. . . but Squeak is also terrorized by tin foil.)
When we arrived at our new home, while Squeak cowered and mewed in his carrier, having already been airsick, the baby was out and about, trotting into each room and inspecting.
There was only one time when I ever saw him genuinely frightened. M Fox’s aunt once gave us a little round poinsettia pillow. When we brought it home, the baby couldn’t handle its existence. Our theory was that M Fox’s aunt had dogs and maybe he smelled them, but considering he had never met a dog before, it seemed unlikely he would be that freaked out by a foreign scent. The mystery was never solved; he eventually made peace with it and would sleep on it, but watching him stalk the Christmas pillow, touch it with a paw, and then panic and dash from the room provided hours of entertainment.
He had a little stuffed fox toy that squeaked. Eventually we removed the damn noise box because he had played with it so much that it wouldn’t stop squeaking. Afterward he still carried it around with him. I would wake up every morning to find his offering next to my face, a good morning gift. He liked to give it to guests who spent the night.
Last Thursday I was walking out of a theatre having just watched the 300th production of Les Miserables that I’ve seen in a year (perhaps an exaggeration). If you don’t know musicals, you might be able to infer from the title that this show, while it doesn’t end on a totally hopeless note, isn’t exactly a high-kicking colorful romp through the streets of gay Paris. So let’s just say that my mood was already sombre.
Then I checked my voicemail. It was the vet with the results of a recent blood test.
Very high white blood cells, low red blood cells, increased kidney values, increased potassium, and increased phosphorus.
I stood in the street and wailed, clutching M Fox in the wet dark streets as theatre goers streamed around us. I didn’t know what that meant, but I also knew what it meant. “Bring Him Home” has been my brain’s soundtrack for the past five days.
Let him be. Let him live.
He was diagnosed with renal failure as a result of either FIP or lymphoma. In order to do more tests, we would have had to let him stay in the hospital for a few more days, which would have meant dialysis and a blood transfusion. We opted to bring him home so he could live his last days with his family without needles or cages. I bought him a rotisserie chicken on the way home.
Looking back, I guess the trouble really started in August at the beginning of this year’s Wedding Season (seriously, y’all, I’m glad you found true love and stuff, but STOP IT ALREADY). We were out of town for a week or so and we had a friend stay at our place while he was between homes. It seemed ideal at the time; he a free berth, we a free cat sitter. Unfortunately, the baby had started going outside of the litter box. He’d always been a little impudent, so we assumed he was protesting a lack of shoulder rides and cookies.
While the results of the week away were messy and stinky, the good news is that they begat the greatest series of text messages that I have ever received. So thanks for that, little baby. (And also to our friend Alex who responded to a gross situation with humor.)
When this behavior continued, so began a series of vet visits, food changes, various cleaning sprays. I don’t really want to get into the details here, but if you’re a cat person who wants some answers or think you’re going through the same thing, feel free to ask in the comments and I can let you know. Unfortunately, I have no good news for you. The bottom line is renal failure is irreversible.
Now as we look back, there were clues from the very beginning — or at least we like to say that there were clues. It’s easy to justify the baby’s death when it’s something that was fated, instead of agonizing if it was something we could have prevented. His constantly drinking, how he never grew despite his big paws and tail. It’s possible that he was only ever going to get three and a half years of life. As M Fox says, “He was just too good for this world.” Forever a kitten. My little Peter Pan kitty. Another name for the list.
The privilege of being a pet owner means that you have the power to make death a graceful, peaceful, loving act. It is the worst decision we have ever had to make and the best decision we had to make for our little baby. In the days before he passed, he lounged outside on the porch, was allowed to chew on my plants, and feasted on turkey and chicken. He slept between M Fox and I every night. We woke up every 4 hours to escort him to his water bowl or the litter box, then carry him back to bed. We have shared a great many goodbye moments, each precious and sweet.
Up until the end, his bright little face and plucky spirit, while maybe slightly dulled, never disappeared. It made it harder to say goodbye. Selfishly, I needed the baby’s little spark to go away. I needed him to be gone so that I could justify what we had to do. But I realize that it is better that the baby fell asleep knowing who he was, and who we were, and that we loved him.
These past five days have reminded me of the importance of my family. My deepest gratitude goes to my family and friends and castmates who have listened to this sad tale, and understood and forgiven my stand-offishness. I want you to know how comforting it was to know you all were there, thinking of us and our loss.
There are no words to describe how thankful I am for my husband, the only person who can truly specifically understand this deep burrowing grief. The baby’s death has been devastating to our little family, but knowing that I have a partner to hold me up and knowing that I have the strength to hold him, even in my weakest and most emotional state, has showed me the incredible power of love. An incredible lesson learned at an awful, awful cost.
Little baby, we owed each other at least another 15 years of companionship, but we’re grateful for what we got. Your fate may have been written in the stars, but we would have adopted you again in a heartbeat. We’ll love you forever.