By Jim Niesen, artistic director of Irondale Ensemble Project in Fort Greene
I usually begin these letters by waiting in hiding for that first sentence to emerge…
Like a cat in the bushes eyeing a stray mouse.
But today, in the hour and a half since I started thinking about today’s letter, I must have had a half dozen or maybe more of these “first sentences” pop into my head and then quickly be cast aside. My discard pile grew higher and higher until I realized, as I do, in reading over all that I had written including what I have put down so far on this attempt, is that they have all been part of an avoidance to getting in touch with what is really on my mind this morning.
Yesterday Barbara and I lost our cat, George.
I am shocked when I now see these words on this page. George was fourteen and had been a part of our family since he was maybe six weeks old. The details of his birth and heritage are uncertain. Barbara’s sister Coco found him, along with his little sister, in the dump in her little town in North Carolina. She brought them home and named them after her and Barbara’s parents: George and Betty. Somewhere along the way in those first few days, Betty became “Mattie”, but “George” stuck, as he did with us, for the fourteen all too short years of his all too short life. Because of the unique spotted pattern of his coat, the “M” pattern on his forehead and his incredible speed. We decided that he was an “Egyptian Mau” , a rare breed that shared all of George’s characteristics.
All cats and dogs and birds, and snakes, and hamsters and potbellied pigs are unique to the people who take them in and who in turn worm their way into their hearts to the extent that you can’t imagine being without them… Until it happens.
George came and went suddenly. We didn’t know Coco had him in mind for us until we showed up at her farm for Christmas in 2008. We didn’t know he was leaving until yesterday morning when our kindly but firm vet told us that there were large masses on his liver that hadn’t been there earlier in the fall when he scored an A on his physical, that his kidneys were failing, and that he was in great pain.
We said our goodbyes and a few minutes later he was gone. He went out as gracefully as he had lived, leaving behind an unimaginable hole in our world that seems to grow larger by the hour.
I’m sitting here right now thinking about George’s doily rituals, and he had many. He liked to squirrel up next to Barbara in the early morning, wrapping his arm and paw round her with all the love and warmth of a human lover. George was a late sleeper, and he didn’t like the cold, he didn’t like it when Barbara had to gently pry herself out of his grasp and he would reach out in the gentlest possible way, extending his paws in the smallest way, to beg her to stay in bed with him.
When we walked down to the corner for our early morning coffee. We’d call back into the house, “George, are you coming?” and down the stairs he’d bounce, or more accurately, gallop– as Barbara said without fail almost every day, “George runs like the wind”. And so he did. Then he’d prance along in front of us like a thoroughbred horse down to the end of the block before hiding himself in the bushes in front of the real estate office on the corner. When we finished our coffee whether it be in five minutes or a half an hour, when we got back to the corner Barbara would call out his name, and he would leap from the hiding place from which he had been patiently awaiting our return, and dash up the sidewalk once again leading the parade in front of us, pausing only to show off his athleticism by scaling six feet, or so, up a tree or to look back at us for the briefest of moments to make sure that we were appreciating his feat of daring do and his attempt to break the record for the four minute mile and then there he would be always in the same place, standing, awaiting us on the front porch.
That was George up until the end of last week. And now he is gone, and our hearts are broken.
It’s a sad day here at 424 Hastings St.
I keep thinking of a silly little poster I bought for Barbara one Christmas many years ago when we had very little money, but which produced memories that still linger on. The poster was filled with little known facts about cats like “cats will pay your rent if you let them.” And at the bottom it ended with these words: Kiss your cat. A fur ball is not a toy. Adopt a cat. He will take over your life (and you won’t mind).”
This has been quite a year of loss, so many wonderful friends and relations…and now George. To all of you we lift a glass of appreciation for being in our love, a thank you for coming along to share the journey. George, what traveling companion you have been– it’s so hard to write the words “have been” instead of are.
And I still can’t say “goodbye” to you, George, you extraordinary, gentle, loving, funny little creature.
The Irondale Ensemble Project is a theater-making organization at the intersection of art, education, community engagement and social justice. The group creates theatre that expands the boundaries of the art form and helps audiences and artists make sense of today’s world.
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