Category Archives: Grendel

End of an era

Death, the undiscovered country,
From whose bourn no traveler returns…
— William Shakespeare, Hamlet

A close-up of Grendel, one of my cats, as he lies in a doorway (2009_03_01_011678)

At fifteen years old, he lived the equivalent of 76 humans years and he battled health problems the whole way, yet he never suffered needlessly.  No, I can never watch an animal suffer.

I did not think Grendel would survive long enough to make the move to East Texas earlier this year, yet as he always did he proved me wrong by rallying, holding his head up and marching proudly and strongly through another woeful bout of poor health.  But all things end, all things wither and die, from stars to people to domestic cats, thus his years came to a close today when his failing body offered more pain and problems than we could conquer.

How I will miss Sponge, the cat who never met a stranger and who always accepted affection from anyone within arm’s reach.  I will miss him wrapping his paws around my arm and pulling it to him to use as a pillow.  I will miss the gentle monster who rode in my lap three hours with nary a complaint, interrupting my driving only when he wanted a reassuring scratch, a kind word, a look to tell him things would be okay.

Today marks the end of an era, an era of rich and full living, an era of love, an era of triumph.  Though his body wished to give up long ago, his soul wouldn’t dream of giving up too soon.

Today marks the end of an era.  Today Grendel hunts in the universe’s vast jungle.  Today he became a lion.


I scarcely knew what to say when Jenny informed me this morning that her beloved cat Coco had slept in the sun one last time before being released to the cosmos Saturday.  Coco’s health had been failing; she was an older cat for certain.  Yet I knew the pain Jenny felt, experienced it all over again as she wept her sorrows upon a sunny day that cared little for her tribulations.

Swimming the depths of my own unflinching depression left me little comfort to offer.  I tried, though, reassuring her of the obvious: the pain would last a lifetime; telling her the weeping cannot be contained, nor should it be; holding her as we stared at the bones of the world holding up a blue sky from which sunshine poured endlessly; and letting her know I understood better than most what she felt, and I would not cheapen it with hollow words when holding her could accomplish so much more.

Of course, words do little in such cases, a lesson I learned following Henry‘s death.  The tears will come as they wish, when they wish, and nothing can stop that.  Losing a beloved, a familiar, is much like losing a bit of our heart.  Every loss takes more, and so we are forced to rend ourselves time and again such that we can replenish the well of emotion that becomes drained and dry.  For we do it time and again, we of compassion, and we set upon the same painful road over and over despite knowing what ends lie in wait.

A close-up of Grendel (2008_12_27_003753)

Grendel, Coco’s doppelgänger, reminds of what was lost this very weekend, what was lost years ago, and what will be lost soon.  Even as I cradled Jenny and let her heartache manifest in tears, I thought of the life waiting at home that careens toward the same destiny.  Cursed throughout his years with one wretched ailment after another, inflicted with agonies no creature should be made to endure, Grendel will not see the years Coco saw, will not enjoy as many sunrises and sunsets and sunny afternoons.

Along the boulevard of days rest historical markers signifying empty spaces once filled with cherished souls.  And each of us walks that boulevard every day, every moment.  We glance this way and that way, and all about us, leaping from the shadows of history, mournful things pass within our vision, no more so than for the heart full of giving for that which cannot be kept.

A close-up of Grendel as he looks out the window (2008_12_27_003754)

His trembling a constant reminder of the toll life has taken on his body, I look at Grendel and see within his eyes the clouding of a sunny day.  Coco must have looked as burdened when finally her spirit recognized what her flesh screamed upon the winds of time: These are my final hours, my final moments, and soon I go to be one with the universe, to return to that which made me.  I see that future here, here in my home, here in my arms as I hold him and caress him and speak to him.  Even his purring sounds weaker than once it did.

What grim specter besets me now sees its essence grow colder still, an icy hand scraped against my inner self and grasping at what torments as yet lie undisturbed.  A falling of dominoes brings death and its kith and kin, darkness and its ilk, anguish and its brethren.  I envy not the torture of Jenny’s soul now, especially so soon after the loss of her mother.  I see in her experiences my own destiny, with Grendel’s fate hanging in the skeletal hands of that which cannot be denied and my own father’s health rapidly succumbing to the ills of a future already written based upon a past too clear to deny.

No creature of conscience can escape the emptiness.  Why would we want to?  Doing so only means we have not loved.  For that reason alone, I hope never to be full.

[that shadowy apparition with golden eyes floating in the background of the second photo is none other than Vazra]

Quality time

The Kids provide endless entertainment and companionship.  Unfortunately, being cats, they don’t always provide the best photographic opportunities.  I can’t tell them to sit and stay while I setup a prime shot.  I can’t let them run about the yard while I capture some magic moments.  In truth, they keep me on my toes when it comes to photographing them.

When we’re playing, it’s near impossible to snap photos while keeping them engaged.  I try, though.  What I wind up with most often are pictures of empty spaces, unrecognizable blurs, my own feet or hands, a wall or the ceiling, furniture, and anything else except cats.  Such is the curse of holding a toy with one hand as I hold the camera out and snap photos with the other.

When they’re playing on their own, I can sometimes get up and grab the camera for some snapshots.  Usually, however, they react to my movement by stopping what they’re doing and running to me for attention or a bit of personal play.  I try to keep the camera nearby for such moments, but that’s not always possible (busy doing chores or eating dinner are two examples that come to mind).

There is only one time when taking photos is simple: when they’re still (sleeping, grooming, etc.).

The next best opportunity is quality time.

Quality time for us happens as often as possible.  It’s nothing more complicated than me sitting or lying on the floor.  It draws them in like flies to honey.

We play.  We show love toward each other.  We focus on the pleasure of just being with one another.

But that represents another challenge.  It’s our quality time; I’m focused on them and they’re focused on me, so photography is nothing more than a byproduct when possible.

That there are seven of them also means my hands are full with making sure each of them receives their due affection.

Nevertheless, I find the happenstance photos from such moments often capture the wild spirits and loving souls that swim within each of these fur persons.

A close-up of Kazon as he looks at me (2008_12_27_003708)

Kazon.  What can I say?  He’s my baby.  When he realizes I’m occupying him surreptitiously in hopes of getting a picture worth the effort, he stops and looks at me with the adoration of a child.  He needs his love, his affection.  And he is a child, a big tomcat in stature with the mind of a juvenile who is always needy, always demanding of personal attention.

A close-up of Kako as she looks out the window (2008_12_27_003718)

Kako.  As independent as she is wanting of Daddy’s time, she proffers a mix of disdain and greed.  Sometimes I can’t get her off my shoulders long enough to breath; other times she smacks me around and lets me know I’m invading her personal space.  I love the bitch that dwells within this feline.  She is both distant and close all at once, a dichotomy that defines the spirit of all cats.

Larenti lying on the bed looking out the windows (2008_12_27_003720)

Larenti.  He is fear made flesh.  I always knew he was abused, for his fear of hands and sudden movements makes this clear.  Yet as much as he wants to engage the other felines, he fears them as much as he fears humans.  A bit of play quickly turns to panic, and a moment on my lap in purring contentment becomes fleeing apprehension when one of the other kids joins us and gets too close, rests against him, gets too near his personal space.  Ah, but he loves his time with me as much as he loves the rest of The Kids.  For a young cat, he still has time to realize the potential of the life I’ve given him.

A close-up of Vazra as he looks out the window (2008_12_27_003723)

Vazra.  He lives up to his name.  Simultaneously amiable and demanding, he is a true king of felines.  He demands things go his way, he demands no one else do what he does, and he demands everyone acquiesce to his needs and wants.  His physical presence, as beautiful as it is, represents a mere shadow of his personality, a big and bold being who loves with the utmost compassion as much as he expects me to answer his every demand.  He’s a mirror of my own soul…

A close-up of al-Zill as he looks at the camera (2008_12_27_003735)

al-Zill.  The neurological damage he suffered before I rescued him ensures he’s a special case in the xenogere homestead.  Affectionate with a purr that can shake dishes off the table, he’s also a child at heart who remains at odds with the disconnect between his brain and his body.  But how he loves the other cats!  As much as he loves me, I might add.  Watching him lie with Grendel as he grooms his older stepbrother warms my heart as much as it does when he pushes his way under the covers at night, when he races to claim my lap, when he follows me everywhere while continually rubbing against me, and when he gives me kisses—sometimes incessantly to the point of pain.

A close-up of Grendel as he looks at me (2008_12_27_003745)

Grendel.  A lifetime of ailments continues to take a toll on this alpha male.  He is Sponge, the cat who can never get enough petting, who can never spend enough time with me (although Kazon gives him a run for his money in that regard).  And while Grendel remains the chief of the watch, I myself lament seeing him weaken, seeing the tremors that plague him all the time now, seeing a great predator reduced to wisps of what once was.  He looks at me with frustration in this photo because I wanted him to pause long enough for a picture, yet I could only demand so much from him before I wept and held him and spoke to him with the utmost adoration.  His time is limited, something obvious by the continued downhill slide of his body.  So many memories wrapped up in this one cat whose flesh can no longer support the soul that made him master of our domain…

Although I tried also to grab a few pictures of Loki, all of them turned out as so much garbage.  He beat me profusely during this episode of quality time.  He ran about, punched me around, argued with me, and basically left me not one opportunity to immortalize his godliness within the digital confines of a photograph.  There will be other times, sure, but I’m sorely disappointed with myself for not being better prepared for his rambunctious and assaulting interaction with me.  For all the abuse I’ve taken from him over the years, I should have known better.

Size doesn’t matter

A close-up of Larenti (20080927_12938)

Larenti is the largest member of The Kids.  He also happens to be the most docile cat in the house, one who shrinks from most encounters and shuns confrontation.

I’ve always suspected his early years brought with them some kind of abuse given his fear of hands, and likewise I think the formative nature of growing up left him with a dread running through his every interaction and encounter with other creatures.  His size alone makes him a formidable presence; his personality strips away that advantage and replaces it with palpable cowardice.

A close-up of Vazra (200_0056)

Vazra, on the other hand, is a petite feline if one ignores the plush fur that doubles his size, yet he fears nothing.  With a devil-may-care attitude he does as he wishes sans any consideration for others, and he defends himself with vigilance and might.  Not that he’s violent, mind you, but he certainly puts up with no flack from anyone.

If he wants to lie somewhere, by golly he’s going to lie there no matter who he has to step on or smother in the process.  If he wants to get in my lap and it’s already occupied, he’ll gladly climb atop the current occupant in order to claim some bit of Daddy’s time and personal space.  Yet he has such a small frame that it’s easy to misjudge his weight when picking him up given that his hair makes him appear twice as large as he really is.  But he doesn’t let that get in the way of his confidence or demeanor.

A close-up of al-Zill (20080927_12963)

al-Zill remains a kitten at heart.  Young of body and mind, his rambunctious spirit crashes through most every second of the day.  He gleefully romps about without any concern for others, tackling the first cat to walk by, chasing anything that moves (and quite a bit that doesn’t move), confronting others in the cat boxes, taking random swings at others hoping to induce play, and otherwise being what a child should be: a meddlesome, troublesome bundle of energy.

While physically he is a relatively small cat with a wee bit of extra padding around the middle, like any juvenile he fears nothing.  When surprised, he flees to a safe distance until he understands the situation, but mostly he sees everything and everyone as a toy, and he lives every moment as though enjoyment lost then can never be regained.  And damn the consequences!

A close-up of Kako (20080825_11486)

The smallest fur person in the house, Kako most likely is the most powerful inhabitant of the xenogere homestead.  Being the lone female in a house full of boys means she has to make up with attitude what she lacks in size and strength.  And attitude she has in abundance.

Kako takes no crap from anyone, least of all me.  All I need do is point at her for doing something wrong and her ears go back as she takes a swing at my parental display (if not several swings).  If any of The Kids invade her space, she growls and howls and puts on a show that would make any reasonable person think she was being tortured.  When it comes to defending her own honor and safety, all of the cats know better than to mess with her.  Petite body notwithstanding, she’s a powerful force and a dangerous woman.  Besides, she also happens to be Daddy’s Girl, so she knows I’ll come to the rescue at the drop of a hat (not that I often need to, but she plays that card when necessary).

A close-up of Kazon (20080927_12946)

Kazon equals Larenti in size, except he doesn’t carry the extra weight.  He’s a lean jock, a large tom with a wide, powerful head that matches his considerable dimensions.  Although without a doubt the biggest baby in the house, my puppy who will never grown out of his childish mind, Kazon puts on the cloak of a big boy when the need arises.

I’m convinced he hasn’t a clue how big and powerful he is.  He still sometimes forgets about his own ass when he jumps up on furniture, leaving him hanging by his front claws while his back feet sway in the wind.  Nevertheless, he tries to assist with discipline from time to time and he dives into kitten-like mayhem without notice, and more often than not it’s his overwhelming size that wins the day.  (In most cases, he simply crashes on top of his playmate in order to win.)

A close-up of Loki (20081005_13451)

Despite age and asthma, Loki remains a menacing feline.  While it goes without saying that he is physically powerful and agile, his dominance stems more from his mind than his body.  He is a plotter and planner, one who carefully and quickly thinks through every action to ensure he manipulates events to his liking.  Though not always the winner at play—or even getting the resting spot he wants most—Loki represents one of the most dangerous things in the universe: a predator with a sharp mind and the physical power to back it up.

Loki is a hazardous foe because he has the potent body of a true killer, but he is even more dangerous because he has the one tool that can win over brawn every single time: a developed intellect that is as keen as it is cunning.  Even as the years have begun slowing him down and even as acute asthma has made him want for breath in the midst of trouble, he wields forethought like a sword.  This has made him the true god of mischief.

A close-up of Grendel (204_0487)

My sickly baby.  Grendel has spent his entire life dealing with one ailment after another: arthritic bone spurs in his hips, acute asthma, stones in his kidneys and bladder, and an immune system that now attacks his own intestines.  From his first year he battled ailment after ailment, yet he remained the alpha of the clan.  Large enough to throw his weight around, thoughtful enough to know that one cannot rule by violence alone, strong enough to put his foot down when needed, and smart enough to let others have their way from time to time, Grendel epitomizes the best kind strength: the gentle kind.

Illness and years have robbed him of much of his potency.  He lost enough weight such that he can no longer whip up on others to keep them in line.  But he tries, and many times he succeeds; but more often than not he prefers to stay out of the fray.  How I miss his casual enforcement of his rights, barely lifting from a resting position to knock away those who would steal his bed.  How I miss the confidence that once dripped from his every move.  Yet what disease and time have stolen from him I give back by proxy.  Grendel will be the alpha until he dies; the others know this and respect it, even if I have to make sure they don’t push him too far.

And when we say goodbye

A close-up of Grendel as he tries to rest (218_1884)

Beneath a cover of sunlight he lay squinty-eyed and trembling, his new world ever changing, ever crumbling.

What has become of the grand master of the house?  What blight tears away at his spirit with such abominable disregard for this majestic survivor?

At the nexus between what was and what is to be rests that which is.  For Grendel, the threads connecting past to future weave a wicked tapestry indeed.

Weakness becomes him, claims at every turn yet another piece of the invincible soul that once was.

As the cloak of his days wraps endlessly around him, the pattern knitted strikes me as unbecoming one so beautiful, one whose tiger stripes demand respect, whose green eyes glint with the fire of timeless splendor.

Yet even master predators must give way to the cosmos.

He throws about his essence the drapery of one who has suffered much, seen far, lived superbly and, most importantly, experienced true happiness.

A home full of love surrounded him at all times, a home with familiars respectful of his dominance and longing for but one more moment in the light of his being.

Only now in the dimming twilight do any of us comprehend what will be lost.

The once unconquerable patriarch, the master of all, now scarcely hides his tremors, wistfully swells in challenge only to cower under the spread of his perpetual decline.

His first year colored the cloth that would envelop his existence for all the days to come.  One ailment after another beset him.

And in my quest to manage the ills of his flesh did I also lace into the years the very demon that likely would strike him down.

I care not for more tests, more examinations bent on finding the next cause and, therefore, the next solution.

Causes have effects.  Effects brought us to where we are today.

Mind his suffering, mind his health, mind his well-being, but subject this handsome creature to more devilish fiends that will do nothing more but prolong the agony?

Absolutely not.

Long have I held that in life it is quality that matters most, not quantity.  What is living for a hundred years if the last twenty are spent being sponge-bathed and spoon-fed in a facility where true living has no meaning?

Why should it be different for my children?

Grendel has fewer days ahead than he does behind, a bridge we all cross at some point in our lives.  He faces the reality of his body’s continuing battle against his will.

Would that I could give him some of the life in me, that I might conquer the inevitable by carving from my own self a relief capable of undoing the pattern that life’s loom has woven for him.

But instead I reach out, offer him the adoration that brings a purr through the shaking, share a bit of time in the sun with one who deserves more than he has received.