Category Archives: al-Zill


I watch a large fly buzz past my head and disappear into the kitchen as I close the garage door.  Oh boy, I think to myself.  Even as Logical Me says “He’s dead,” Memory Me worries for the mayhem to follow, for Kazon becomes an ebony tornado of mass destruction when flying things enter our home.  And because at this moment it is Memory Me who holds sway over the world, I quickly shut the door and hurry through the kitchen toward the office where I can hear the winged interloper inexpertly bouncing around the bright windows.

Back in 2001 or 2002, Derek asked me a question to which I offered only a mocking look in answer.  It was one of those questions that lives its life somewhere below rhetoric and more in the realm of warranted mirthful derision, for the silliness of the thing fails to strike us until after the final question mark is enunciated, the kind of question we can’t help but laugh at ourselves for asking—but only after we ask it, a synaptic misfire of the humorous kind.  “Do you know what Kazon does when you leave?” he had asked.  It seemed self-evident that, no, in fact, I did not and could not know what Kazon did when I left since, in point of fact, my leaving meant I was no longer there to see what Kazon did.  After we both enjoyed a chuckle at the inanity of it, Derek mastered all his powers of self-image repair and began again: “Let me tell you what Kazon does when you leave.”

The fly weaves between the blinds and circles above the desk.  I see it as I cross the room, and I watch it smack into the blinds before it navigates between them and back to the sunlit glass.  Without realizing what I’m doing, my eyes dart about watching for the oncoming mayhem, watching for Kazon to leap into action as his hunter instincts and large body set to work on the task of dispatching this delightfully agile prey.  And destroying the house in the process.

“Within a minute or two after you leave,” Derek said, “Kazon goes and sits in front of the door.  He just sits and stares at the door.  I’ve tried calling him away sometimes, but he won’t move.  After he sits there a minute or two, he starts crying.  It’s so mournful and empty.  It’s not a cliché to assume he feels like he just lost his whole life and that he knows he’ll never see you again.  He’ll sit there lamenting for up to half an hour.  Sometimes, if I call to him enough, he’ll come and get some attention, but he won’t stay.  The moment I stop petting him or when he realizes he’s been away from the door too long, he goes back to his vigil and starts crying again.  Like I said, he sits there a while, probably longer than is healthy.”

al-Zill notices the fly and gives chase when the insect performs a quick aerial inspection of the darker living room.  There is a brief leap-turn-twist-reach-grab maneuver involved, but the fly escapes back to the office.  al-Zill follows with serious intent, and I begin to wonder if he intends somehow to replace Kazon in this regard, becoming the danger to house and home when a flitting critter invades.  But Memory Me still rules, so I accept al-Zill’s role as temporary and continue waiting for Kazon to hear the fly and come running.

“Eventually he stops crying, but he stays at the door for a while longer,” Derek continued.  “After a while, he slinks around from room to room.  I’m pretty sure he’s looking for you.  The whole time he looks like he’s been beaten, his head hanging low, his tail held just above the floor.  And after the whole place is searched, he winds up on your pillow or your desk or your chair—someplace where you spend enough time—and he curls up and takes a nap.  If I move him—and believe me, I’ve tried because I feel so bad for him—he just goes back to where I moved him from.  That seems as close to you as he can be, and he needs it.  There’s no doubt about that.”

al-Zill sits atop the desk and watches the fly buzz in the window.  The cat’s eyes are intent, moving only to follow the insect’s movements, yet he doesn’t leap into the window, doesn’t knock books and computers and lamps and other civilized artifacts from the desk to the floor, doesn’t threaten to rip the  blinds from the wall, doesn’t fling himself with utter and blind intent through the air with hope of catching the fly, and all no matter who or what gets in the way, a cat blind to everything except the chase.  al-Zill watches and waits, something Kazon would never do.  Only at that thought do I again wonder why Kazon hasn’t discovered the fly and hasn’t begun his startling chaotic pursuit, and I realize as I wonder such a thing that Kazon is gone, that he won’t be chasing flies again, he won’t be wiping clean the desk and counters with reckless abandon, that he won’t all but rip the blinds from the windows as he focuses his entire existence on capturing a fly, that he won’t endanger the lives of others as he narrows his whole world into a single predator-prey interaction.

“When he wakes up from his nap,” Derek finished, “he eats and plays and comes for affection and acts like a normal cat, acts like you expect him to act.  But it’s obvious while he does that that something’s wrong.  You can look at him and see that his spirit is only half in what he’s doing.  You can tell he’s just going through the motions.  It’s so heartbreaking because, honestly, I think at that point he’s resolved himself to the fact that you’re never coming back, that he’s lost you, and the very idea of it has broken him.  I really don’t think he could live without you.  Me, sure he could lose me, although he’d miss me, but I have no deception in my head that he wouldn’t survive.  But you…”  Here Derek shook his head with an emotional realization of what he needed to say.  Then: “That’s a whole different story.  He’d die without you.  Sentimental though it sounds, I know it’s true.  Because once he’s done with  his halfhearted play or eating or litter box duties or whatever, he goes back to the door, starts in with the crying again, and the whole cycle repeats.  Until you come home.”

Derek knew no such thing took place while he was gone.  For reasons that only became clear to me by the end of his description of Kazon’s activities, he’d asked me previously if the cats acted strangely while he was gone.  Since by then he traveled frequently on business, it seemed an innocent question at the time.  In retrospect, I think he was weighing what he saw when I was gone against what I saw when he was gone.  And if he ever felt hurt by the differences in behavior, he never showed it, nor would he have, for he loved the cats and understood his growing travel schedule meant they spent more time with me than with him.  He also knew, in some way and for reasons we never comprehended, that the cats had always been closer to me than to him.

The fly still buzzing and al-Zill still watching it, Memory Me gives way, finally succumbs to the truth Logical Me had spoken—”He’s dead.”—and that’s when Philosophical Me moves in and reminds all of us that loss, though difficult, is never more painful than when in the grip of habit, for habits are hard to break and come of their own volition, and with them they bring expectations.  In this case, the habit is watching the fly and waiting, and the expectation is Kazon.  Though I always fear for the damage he will cause when chasing flying insects in the house, it was delightful to watch, fun, vigorous, and Kazon always displayed the most intent focus he could muster.  All of which Feeling Me knows, which is why his only response to the fly was to sit back and weep.

Finally Humane Me moves us to capture the fly and free it back to the outside world.  On the way, fly buzzing madly in my hand, I notice little more than the absence of Kazon leaping to my shoulders or climbing my leg in an attempt to get the neat toy wrapped in my fist, the self-propelled toy just large enough to see and chase yet small enough to be fast and difficult to capture.  Even as I set the fly loose out the door, I think of how empty the whole experience has been, and how damnable habits are when coupled with loss.

And I also think about what Derek said so many years ago: he felt certain Kazon could never live without me.  Since we essentially are immortal compared to our pets, at least I know he never had to try.

To whom it may concern

Mom recently said to me that she knows something’s wrong if I’m not writing.  How telling.  True, sure, but nonetheless insightful for its simple clarity.

Fox squirrel (a.k.a. eastern fox squirrel, stump-eared squirrel, raccoon squirrel or monkey-faced squirrel; Sciurus niger) resting atop a fence (2009_06_06_022664)

So yesterday, when my eighth blogging anniversary came and went, I sat on the fence regarding how much I felt like posting about it.  Then the day slipped by, a wisp of smoke grasped and lost in the same moment.  Which didn’t bother me.

Abstract photo of the keyboard of my laptop (190_9006_ab)

Because for months now my keyboard has looked less like a communication device and more like an impassable desert.  I felt daunted as I sat in front of it, unable to resurrect even the most fleeting word combinations from the dark and barren landscape at my fingertips.

Heavy morning dew on a blade of grass (20080824_11348_ab)

Substantial thoughts and ideas, let alone the ability to make them manifest, quickly vanished in the light of day, nothing but morning dew of the mind.

The sun setting behind thickening clouds (20081011_13814_ab)

Yet in the sunset of these ruminations dawned a jarring realization.  Though the past year has held its share of challenges, some of which I must carry with me beyond this eighth anniversary, part of my worsening blog malaise stemmed from a disturbing truth I have to face: in the past year, I broke my cardinal rule by allowing someone to influence—Nay, not just influence, but rather to control what I blogged, even if indirectly.

Why didn’t I post anything about The Kids last year?  Why did my writing degrade into nothing short of mundane documentary, a blow-by-blow, dry, uninspiring mess?  Even though the past several months and their inimical ways share part of the blame, here at the beginning of my ninth year at the keyboard, why has blogging become so intimidating, so resented?  It all boils down to a boy and how I let him indirectly manage my personal journal.

That idea made me angry.  And since anger is more useful than despair, it spurred me forward, urged me back to my roots, forced me to decide resolutely that, like I said five years ago to another friend for the very same reasons, this is my blog, my journal, my home on the web.  If you don’t like it, just go away.

While I still have trials to win and obstacles to overcome, that hangup seems to have stuck in my craw for far too long.  It feels good to finally cough it up.

And to show my resolve in this matter, here’s a picture of the Shadow, al-Zill.

A close-up of al-Zill, one of my cats, as he looks out the window (20080613_06470)

He’s watching things blow away on the winds of change.

— — — — — — — — — —


  1. Fox squirrel (a.k.a. eastern fox squirrel, stump-eared squirrel, raccoon squirrel or monkey-faced squirrel; Sciurus niger)
  2. My laptop’s keyboard
  3. Heavy morning dew on a blade of dallisgrass (a.k.a. water grass or Dallas grass; Paspalum dilatatum)
  4. An autumn sunset at the family farm deep within the Piney Woods of East Texas
  5. al-Zill, or sometimes “the Shadow” and “Little Terrorist”

Little Terrorist

Don’t let the innocent face fool you…

al-Zill sitting on a cat tree and looking out the window (2008_12_17_002503)

al-Zill might look sweet and cuddly, and knowing he has brain damage from a pre-rescue coyote attack might lull one into a false sense of pity, but he’s a little terrorist.

Sure, he’ll lie in my lap and look tender and adorable, but then he’ll turn around and bite me for no reason.

Sure, he’ll stand and groom one of his siblings with all the affection he can muster, but then he’ll lean back and smack ’em upside the head just when they’re thinking the world couldn’t get any better.

Sure, he’ll give kisses for just about any reason, but then he’ll keep giving them until he’s worn the tissue down to the bone.

Sure, he’ll sit by my feet and soak up all the petting he can get, but then he’ll randomly bite a toe or sink his claws into my ankle.

Sure, he’ll curl up under the covers with me when it’s time to go to bed, but then he’ll attack me the first time I move.

Sure, he’ll dash to the water and food bowls so he can sit beside one of the other cats while they eat or drink, but then he’ll pounce on them once their head is down.

Sure, he’ll go to sleep nearby, but then he’ll suddenly attack me or one of the other cats and send all of us careening out of bed.

Sure, he’s a little terrorist.  And I love him just the way he is.

He falls sometimes

Black cat at night.  He moves with the stealth of a master predator, one painted with the color of darkness that makes him invisible after the sun falls below the horizon.

Yet something sees him, something large and traveling in a pack, something powerful and hungry.

The cat slinks across grass wet with dew, his movement silent, his steps meticulously planned and executed.

And still the coyotes look on, watch closely, coordinate their attack with whispers and glances few could notice.

Sans warning, a blur of dark coats move with suddenness that ensnares the feline in a trap, encircles him with fangs bared, surrounds him with snarls and growls.

There is nowhere to run.  Still he tries.

Then it’s done.  Held in the mouth of a canine, his skull and neck pierced, his jaw dislocated, the cat fights back with all the means at his disposal.

Claws stab the coyote’s face from all sides, blades kicking and scratching with a fierceness the large animal had not anticipated, could not foresee.

In a stroke of luck, pain overcomes the hunting instinct and the powerful jaws relax just enough for the cat to escape, to flee, to run up the nearest arboreal refuge where coyotes cannot follow.

But the damage is done…

Fiction?  Perhaps, at least to a small degree, although not entirely.

al-Zill lying on the floor in a pool of sunshine (2009_02_28_011184)

A fractured skull.  A jaw that doesn’t quite fit together.  A hairless scar above the shoulders.  A mind separated from body when it matters most.  And sometimes when it doesn’t matter at all.

al-Zill fights every moment in often feeble attempts to will his form into submission.

More often than not, he asks for that which his frame cannot provide.  Chasing his tail means smacking his head against the wall or falling off furniture.  Walking across the room can be successful…or not.  Even standing can prove difficult: he falls sometimes.  Not just falls, though.  Collapses.

A closeup of al-Zill (2009_02_28_011226)

Entwined with the innocence and mischief of youth, he gets up and keeps going.  His purr never wavers.  His ebullience never wanes.  And his spirit never gives up.

I see the battle in his face, at least from time to time.

A profile of al-Zill as he looks out the window (2009_03_01_011706)

Mostly I see an indomitable feline making the most of his life irrespective of the setbacks and failures.

Let the sun shine in

Being on call this weekend meant not getting out for more than a cursory run to the store or coffee shop, but it also meant more time with The Kids—along with more time to do chores.

Having my foot chained to a Blackberry and a laptop darkened my mood and butchered all hope of taking walks and doing some writing; it didn’t keep me from enjoying quality time with seven shamefully demanding felines.

Larenti on the edge of the bed staring at open windows with a longing only inside cats understand (2009_02_28_011292)

What irked me most was that I had the camera on the wrong settings.  Having been used most recently for outside telephoto sessions, I hastily changed lenses yesterday but failed to consider anything else before joining in a fur person convention taking place in the bedroom.

Most of the pictures didn’t turn out, but some did.  And since photography is barely a secondary consideration at such times, I wasn’t too bothered by that result.

Besides, I was rather pleased that piles of laundry and perpetual pages failed to dampen spirits.

Kazon sitting amongst piles of laundry and looking at me with that I-love-you-Daddy-now-please-pet-me stare that melts my heart every time (2009_02_28_011611)

We played.  Oh how we played!

And in between the play, we showered in affection.

The characters changed as cats came and went at will.  Time for a bath in the sunshine.  Time for a bite to eat.  Time for a nap.  Time for whatever.

None of them went very far, and every one of them came back again and again.

al-Zill lying in the sun trying to take a nap (2009_02_28_011169)

I feel shamed when work takes from them what they deserve; on the other hand, sometimes it gives them precisely what they need.

I guess it cuts both ways.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Larenti on the edge of the bed staring at open windows with a longing only inside cats understand.

[2] Kazon sitting amongst piles of laundry and looking at me with that I-love-you-Daddy-now-please-pet-me stare that melts my heart every time.

[3] al-Zill lying in the sun trying to take a nap.