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.