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The Man Who Mistook His Pillow For A Cat

What cats, chemo and neuropathy have in common

 Cat up

Behind the side-show curtain at Chemo Circus

 

Somewhere between that world we grew up in and a strange new one - where things get upside down and you see feet in the air and not on the ground where they belong. Where things can fly and spin, yet so sluggish that you could reach out and catch them in slow motion. A world where you reach to zip your coat but the edges are gone,  where you look down and discover that you're trying to zip your belt to your coat. Wait a minute! This is a no-feely world: these hands are working for somebody else.  I must be watching TV: those are remote-controlled hands and I'm not in charge (chemo neuropathy has left both hands numb.)

So opens a story about a new world and the sky and a cat with the name Nutmeg. In our first real house since we became a couple, we had three skylights cut into the roof, turning our third floor into an Oz-like place to sit and read and sleep, and sky-gaze. We put a mattress on the carpeted floor under the skylight. You could lie there at night and see the stars and the moon. Low silent jets with their blinking red and white lights, only a few minutes after departing LaGuardia or JFK, beginning their trips to anywhere. You could picture hundreds of people in their seats, looking out tiny windows at all of us - those white dots after leaving the outlines of New York City. On a rare night you could see a shooting star.

I woke up one Spring morning just before dawn. The sky was dark. A tiny dot of an Air Force jet leading a long white con-trail, inched in slow motion across the sky to the South. The sun was still around the world, but close enough to focus light on anything up there. It caught the trail, rendering two bright orange-yellow pinstripes. Witnessing these events ballooned my recently expanded chemo-sense of slow motion. What sweetened gratitude for these moments was the silence that covered the sky as these scenes bloomed and faded. The only sound, except for my internal background hum, was faint rhythmic breathing from Chow, who was asleep only a foot to the west.

Traveling through this scene to whatever is next, I notice a knot, an ache - in my neck. Where's my pillow? A quick scan with numb hands yields no pillow. Okay, it fell off. No big deal - the floor is right there, so reaching back as I have many times, both arms pass my head and neck as they scan the floor behind me for the pillow. Softness - got it. Squeeze, and back up over my head. As I raise my neck, making room for the pillow, Chow's voice shocks me out of my gliding trance. "Terry!" What? "Terry!" As I'm getting the eyes to work together, I notice a hard bump in the pillow. My left hand feels there's a bone in the middle. What the.. I'm looking up into bulging, startled eyes, with upside-down ears below, and a closed mouth above. This is a... I'm dreaming... upside down cat!

"Terry!" All legs leading to these bulging eyes are struggling to bust free.  The bundle is shaking. What the...this is my pillow!  I loosen my grip and Kablam - the cat is flying through the air and out the door, and I hear it tumbling down the stairs. No screams; no heavy breathing; nothing but thumps flying down the carpet.

Nutmeg had come far with us. She walked into my son's life when he was at college in Gambier, Ohio. Eddie brought her back to Brooklyn, where she lived happily until he came home with two rescued pit-bull-mixes. Something had to give, and we got Nutmeg. Aloof for about a year, she softened when Chow was pregnant with the twins. She began to sit, kneading, on Chow's belly, like a chicken on eggs. With me she remained at arm's length until my cancer diagnosis. When I began chemotherapy and collapsed every afternoon on the couch, she would hop up and sit across my legs, resting her head on my belly. That summer we became a family.

After the hanging event, she didn't show her face again for more than a day. She got over it - the next night she came back to sleeping at our heads. Not long after that, no one was at home when the house burned down. We are afraid she was sleeping under the skylight. We never saw her again.

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Calico Pie,  Lucy Simon

To listen: click on white arrow

Calico Pie
The little birds fly
Down to the calico tree
Their wings were blue
And they sang 'Tilly-loo!'
Till away they flew
And they never came back to me
They never came back they never came back
They never came back to me.

Calico Ban,
The little Fish swam,
Over the syllabub sea,
He took off his hat,
To the Sole and the Sprat,
And the Willeby-Wat,
But he never came back to me
He never came back he never came back
He never came back to me

Calico Jan,
The little Mice ran
To be ready in time for tea
Flippity flup
They drank it all up
And then danced in the cup
But they never came back to me
They never came back they never came back
They never came back to me

Calico Drum
The Grasshoppers come
The Butterfly, Beetle, and Bee
Over the ground
Around and around
With a hop and a bound,
But they never came back to me

They never came back they never came back
They never came back to me
They never came back they never came back
They never came back to me

 

 Chow Nutmeg, pregnant

 

 

 

 

Terry Hourigan, R.N.

 

Published in cats childhood connection family gratitude loss pets

One Comment

  1. John

    John

    Great story. Animals can be family. It’s always sad when we lose them.

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