Category Archives: Henry

They’re not enough

I need your grace
To remind me
To find my own

LD recently asked me to participate (secretly) in xocobra’s weekend of spiritual renewal.  Excepting the Christian overtones of the event, I felt both honored and challenged by her request:

[xocobra] is going through a spiritual renewal weekend… There he will receive notes and letters as a surprise. Would each of you consider writing him a note or letter of encouragement or something that would be special to him about what he’s meant to you in your life? It doesn’t need to be lengthy and anything would be great!

Truth be told, I was on call last week and had little time to think about it.  I received her message Tuesday evening when I arrived home from the office.  That night remained busy for me and I set her note aside.

Wednesday evening I found myself with a bit of time, so I returned to the e-mail and considered what I might say.

Let’s be clear: xocobra means a lot to me.  I love him dearly.  Unfortunately, and in retrospect, putting into words the importance of such people is nothing short of impossible.  Nevertheless, I tried.

I (digitally) penned the missive in the few minutes I had available, then I sent it off on its journey.

Yet I couldn’t help but feel my words rang hollow, that the trite and paltry verbiage failed completely to say that which needed to be said.

Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old

A lifetime of family and friends in this human culture of ours has taught me a profound lie offered as significant truth: When you love someone, say so.

Only after this exercise at LD’s behest did I begin to realize words are feeble instruments when it comes to the meaning of people, to the emotional bonds we share.  Saying “I love you” seems to matter, but it really doesn’t when the words are as overused as that once magical expression.

Still, too often we fail to communicate what we feel to those who deserve most to hear it.  Seldom are the moments when we really look at someone who matters and try to make clear how much they mean to us.

What needs to be said most often usually is said all too rarely.  Even more infrequently is it shown.

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

I wonder, looking back at life, how many times I’ve let a moment slip away without communicating what mattered most to those who mattered most.  More troubling is how often I failed to let my feelings manifest in something other than words. . .when words simply wouldn’t have been enough.

Whether in a comfortable silence, a kiss or a hug, a gentle touch, or an ordinary moment of togetherness, I wonder how often I’ve let slip by me the most critical seconds in life when what was needed was a demonstration of my love.

And here a day after the ninth anniversary of Henry‘s death, less than two months after the anniversary of Derek’s death, and after I visited family Saturday who reminded me how fragile life is and how easily it can end—and how all too soon it does end, I’m left wondering how I can ever make clear to those who matter precisely how much they mean to me, how important they are, how critical their collective presence is in my life.

I don’t quite know
How to say
How I feel

Those three words
Are said too much
They’re not enough

[lyrics from “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol]


Written through more tears and smiles than can be explained. . .

Theriomorph tagged me with a meme that you’ll see is particularly close to my heart. 

An interesting animal I had:
It took nearly thirty years for me to realize I can never “have” an animal.  I don’t buy them; I adopt and rescue them.  I don’t have pets; I share my home with family.  Just as I can never own a moment of time, I can never own an animal.

If memory serves, each and every creature with whom I’ve shared a bit of life has brought with them fantastical spirits which could be described as nothing less than interesting.  Nary a one of them could be called ordinary or mundane.  To say their souls blessed me would be a profound understatement.

I’ve journeyed with the likes of seahorses, ducks, a tarantula, shrimp, a snake, and even a baby squirrel I rescued many moons ago.  And that doesn’t cover all the dogs and cats and fish and rabbits, or even the cows and horses and pigs and fowl of many feathers.

And yet there still remain two names most vividly seared into my memory.

Arco the Doberman.  She brought such joy to our lives that it scarcely does justice to say she was interesting.  Nevertheless, she was just that.

Dad had a rule that she had to keep two paws on the floor when it came to being on the furniture (keep in mind she was a large dog).  Seeing that Arco knew she was as much a part of the family as anyone else, she bent the rule until it nearly broke—but not quite.  She’d back onto a piece of furniture until only her front paws dangled to the ground.  She would essentially be “on the couch” yet equally would be in compliance with Dad’s rule.  Her view obviously was such that, being a person, she could sit on the furniture like everyone else.  She simply let her feet touch the floor like the rest of us did.  Problem solved.

No one dared mess with us kids with her around.  The whole reason for adopting her stemmed from a simple fact with female Doberman pinschers: Unless she has puppies, she will adopt human children as her own puppies as she grows, and this creates in her an innate need to protect them at all costs.  She came to live with us when we were but young’uns.  It didn’t take long for her to realize we were her pups, her kids, and she, as our mother, needed to see to our protection.  I can remember her backing one of my uncles against the front door, her mouth firmly planted on his crotch, simply because he took her by surprise and didn’t get our blessing before storming into the living room.  And at another moment, she guarded another uncle who sat on the couch without moving for fear of his own life.  Until we said it was okay, she intended to put herself between us and anyone who might be a threat.

Yet when dealing with us no gentler soul could be found.  As children, we molested that poor dog as human offspring are wont to do, yet she put up with our antics without a single complaint.  After all, we were her children.  But look at us wrong and she’d be on top of you in a heartbeat.  Even my father learned that disciplining us sometimes meant putting her outside first lest he be the target of her wrath.  A raised voice, a pointed finger, or even a sudden move could result in immediate attack.  She was truly the protective mother no one dared challenge.

Then there’s Henry.  I doubt there’s much I can say about him that I haven’t already said, perhaps even several times.  And still I’ll try.

He was my friend, my brother, my confidant, my distant family and intimate stranger, my beloved, my teacher and student, my anesthesia and alarm, my world—nay, my universe, and he was the soil for my roots, the guide I followed in darkness, the image I saw when all else became invisible.  He was my companion.

Henry lived for almost 22 human years (104 feline years).  As I’ve said time and again, Mom and I always thought he’d outlive the entire family.  He certainly tried.  As his body succumbed to age, I pampered him through his frailty and ensured our relationship didn’t suffer.  I picked him up so gently that one might think him a porcelain statue, one so carefully held in my arms as to be padded from even the weakest zephyr.  I provided ad hoc stairs to help him get up and down from the bed; he would sleep nowhere but with me, and I needed him there as much as I needed each breath, so how could I respond otherwise to arthritic bones and aged muscles too stiff and weak to leap up but a short distance?  In those final years I treated him like a dry leaf fallen from an autumn tree.

Through most years together and some apart, he remained my Henry:

For reasons I couldn’t understand, Henry always had been my cat.  He found comfort in my lap when no other was acceptable or welcoming.  Sitting on the floor in front of the back door at my parents’ old house, we would dance albeit with more joy in me than him, and we would embrace each other afterward in celebration of his survival and my entertainment, though there was no cruelty involved and he tolerated it only because of that fact.  I was the only one who stayed up with him all night when he became so ill that he wandered about the house in delirium, wailing in tones horrific and rending of the heart, first in the bathroom by the toilet and eventually in the hall with his head stuck partway through the closet door which leaned uncomfortably against his neck.  He slept with me when all others were denied.  If I was sick or distraught, he knew it and would respond accordingly.  Comrade spirits in life, we two had an understanding, the crux of intimacy between human and cat, that place wherein the master predator gives itself completely to the companionship and love of another and learns to rely trustingly.

No one has ever taught me as much as Henry taught me.  From the value of quality versus quantity to the deepest meaning of love, he remains my life’s greatest educator.  Never before him had I learned to cradle a life so gently in my arms.  Never before him had I learned to appreciate the differences between value and extent.  Never before him had I learned to see well beyond me to the greater needs of others.  He taught me about the true power of denial.  He taught me the meaning of pain and truth:

I sobbed, leaning lower and stroking his black fur and mumbling to him.  “It’s OK, Henry,” I said.  “You’re OK.  We’re going to make it better.  We’re going to take away the pain.”  I hated myself for saying it.  I felt deceptive, a liar telling his child that the pain is how we grow when what is necessary is an understanding that the pain means we are hurt, that our body in one of its many forms is damaged, that we need healing that words rarely provide.  I despised myself immensely for such cheap contributions to his final moments.

In those final moments of his life, he taught me so much more. . .

Might I somehow metaphysically consume him and take all that he is into my own self?  Can I bestow upon him more living through my own essence and life, finding in that act an ability to extend my parental care beyond mortality?

All thought was gone from me; only my heart acted.  Despite thinking it impossible, I leaned even closer to Henry and embraced his body next to mine as the doctor tenderly inserted the needle, slowly but deliberately injected its contents, and removed it in a motion swift and targeted so that very little notice of it might present.  He stroked Henry lovingly one last time, then again touched my arm ever so briefly before turning and leaving the room.

I wept.  Oh, how I wept.  I listened to his breathing and held him close to me.  I continued talking to him through my own tears, assuring and reassuring him that he would be OK, that the pain was soon to be gone, that no more suffering would befall him, and that he need not worry about me anymore, just himself.  The life drained out of him with slowing breath and with it, my soul poured forth in tears.  He who had been so near to me took his last intake of air and laid it upon my face with the whisper of his being.  Oh, how I wept then.  My tears fell upon his still fur.  My own wailings transformed into unmanageable gasps of air.  Measured only in a few brief minutes, the decades of his life vanished on that counter as he lay wrapped in my arms and held close to me, and with the going of his light so too left a part of my soul forever lost to me, that part of my own living measured in doses of Henry.

. . .including one of the most important questions in life:

And now I wonder.  Was it better for him to be in an alien place, frightened and stressed in his already weakened and ailing state, the cold of stainless steel, tile floor, hard counter, fluorescent lighting, and needle surrounding him on all sides and pressing in on him, yet cloaked in totality by three people who loved him dearly, there in the not-home and not-comfortable to take his final breath?  Or would it have been better for him to face his death in the comfort of his home where he knew himself to be safe, in that place wherein he could be Henry, embraced by those familiar walls and ceiling and floor that had been his home for so many years, undoubtedly suffering as his body failed uncontrollably, yet in that section of the cosmos wherein he was the all of himself, where he knew he was safe and loved?  I do not know the answer to that question.  And it vexes me.

And he taught me this:

May I never — never — be without this level of compassion for my children: The Kids.  May I never be without this level of compassion for my family and friends.  May I never lose the ability to suffer the loss of a pet without embracing the strength to do it again and again and again.  May I never exist without the will and power of mind to care for the least of these, whether they be human or otherwise.  May I always understand the joy of loss and the sorrow of love.

An interesting animal I ate:
Although I’ve given up eating meat, I spent a great deal of my life consuming the flesh of animals with utter abandon (shame on me!).

Shark jumps to mind as possibly the most unusual kind of animal I’ve eaten (and how barbaric that sounds. . .).  Well, shark and opossum.

I found the shark meal to be entirely untempting, if not inedible.  Tough like rubber and almost flavorless, I suspect my experience had more to do with the chef and the recipe than with the animal itself.  Then again, maybe not.  This was in Nuuk, Greenland.

As for the ‘possum dish, I can only say Louisiana folk can certainly cook up a tempting bit of marsupial.  I find it rather distasteful looking back on it; at the time, however, I struggled with gluttony while serving myself bowl after bowl of spicy, tongue-tingling ‘possum gumbo.

Then again, I’ve also filled my tummy with the likes of dishes made from crickets, ants, and grubs.  Interesting?  You bet!

An interesting animal in the museum:
‘Museum’ is defined as a place where important things are preserved.  I can’t think of any animal in a museum that I don’t find interesting.  Whether it be a touch of history shielded from us by time, or a touch of history taken from us by human ignorance, not a single creature thus preserved can be described as anything less than magnificent.  From mammoths robbed by natural extinction to passenger pigeons stolen by man’s ignorant savagery, a walk through any museum unveils creatures worthy of our reminiscent sorrow and heartfelt respect.

But there is one group of animals that has always fascinated me beyond words: dinosaurs.  Undoubtedly my favorite creatures ever to roam the planet, these giant reptiles have enthralled me since I was but a boy.  There are three in particular which seed my imagination and inspire wonder: Spinosaurus aegypticus, Tyrannosaurus rex, and my all-time favorite Triceratops.  How I marvel at these giants each time I set me eyes upon their fossils.  Masters of the world were they, and long before mammals began their evolutionary journey toward supremacy.

Long have our dreams and nightmares been fueled by the likes of these behemoths.  Dragons undoubtedly took shape in the minds of humanity in response to our early ancestors stumbling upon dinosaur fossils and footprints.  We expend great effort to entertain ourselves with direct and indirect references to these giants from history.  To say I am fascinated by them would be to diminish their impact on me.

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal:
Doesn’t that sound illegal?  Anyway. . .

I once told Jenny this story.  Now I’ll share it here.

I often drive through the lake park on my way home from work.  I live on its edge and can more easily reach my home if I do so, but the reasons are more complex and simple than that.  After a long day focused on surviving the rat race, there exists a stunning bit of relaxation from which I imbibe just before reaching my garage: to make my way slowly along the lake’s edge, to drive carefully through a wildlife habitat that lies in the middle of a large metropolitan area.  The moment I turn into the park, I am transported away from the city and to a measure of rurality and nature difficult to find in these parts.

So it was with glee that I made my way to the lake one hot summer afternoon.  Cruising along at barely more than crawl, I breathed in with my eyes and ears the lush surroundings.  Then I spotted it.

A large painted turtle was slowly making its way across the tiny road.  Vivid yellows and reds glistened against a dark green background as sunlight danced upon skin and shell.  Its legs methodically moved back and forth carrying it across warm concrete.

A few bicycles swerved around it at the last minute.  Nevertheless, I could see a car moving toward us from the opposite direction.  The turtle was in its path.

I swerved my car to the side of the road and stopped beside the reptile.  In that position, I blocked all of one lane and half of the other.  Any vehicle moving by me would have to drive partially in the grass to avoid hitting me.

To my chagrin, I noticed a police car moving into position behind me.  Seeing that I was blocking oncoming traffic and forcing it to drive on the wrong side of the road, not to mention blocking most of the path, I suspected I would have some explaining to do.

Without turning on his lights or siren, the officer pulled in behind me.  This put him in a position to look along the driver’s side of my car.  As he glanced at me hanging out the window, his gaze followed my own until his eyes rested on this large, wonderfully decorated creature making its way toward the grass.

I looked carefully at the policeman with one question on my mind: What’s he going to do now?

Then a smile crossed his face, a beaming grin from ear to ear, and he waved and nodded to me.  He never got out of his car.  Instead, he turned his lights on and sat quietly with me as we ensured the safety of this one animal.

As soon as the turtle had moved a few feet off the road and into the tall grass, the police lights turned off, the officer again waved to me, and we both pulled back over to the correct side of the road before going our separate ways.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat:
All of them.

Dare I speak to you of the red fox climbing the hill while Drew and I walked around the lake, his form frozen for an instant as he sized us up, as he carefully weighed his options, and upon realizing we posed no threat as we stood captivated by him, as he finally turned and walked casually down the hill and into the dense forest?

Dare I speak to you of standing abreast marshlands in Florida feasting upon the sight of a massive alligator weaving its way amongst reeds and grasses, occasionally glancing at me, and once meeting my stare—at which point I lost myself in the eyes of a dragon?

Dare I speak to you of a sizable shark swimming near me as I bobbed up and down in the Gulf of Mexico?

Dare I speak to you of the hummingbird flying so near as to brush my cheek with the wind from its wings, a darting creature both vocal and magical?

Dare I speak to you of a million beasts in a million places, each of them the most serene image of beauty no matter the species, and all because I saw them where they were meant to be, in and of nature, members of a global habitat we humans fail to respect?

I can think of no more interesting animal in its natural habitat than the one we leave alone, that we let survive, that we don’t hunt or push to death by encroaching blindly on its territory.

Summoned shadow

beneath the bed rests absent friends
     long silenced his rubs against my legs
           alone my breath heals the scars
lie on the floor; my soul attends
     the shadow cat who no longer begs
           loving treats and rides in cars

and sounds of cereal boxes rent
     in kitchens drawn from times long past
           suffered hard and pierced my soul
dark form of his creeps, goes, and went
     whose wanders leap and play and cast
           without, within, no longer whole

this darkness in memories keep of mine
     yet seen in cats both here and there
           torn apart while robbed of spirit
emotion’s claws are deep and fine
     I fail to see they do not care
           I wonder why I do not hear it

for time or space lost in parts
     as this fulfills what dares don’t stand
           a final hour of love committed
this empty lap holds empty hearts
     beneath my smile it demands
           and with death is my mind committed

ears unscratched and fur unpetted
     by hands filled with lonely nests
           in time soon hence he will put on
marked by five lives unvetted
     and lo, the different countenance
           uncalloused, I hear his song

yet welcomed home by purr and patter
     he waits for me; I know this now
           forgiving my unyielding ways
held in time and space and matter
     expected times; I see him prowl
           and feel his fur upon my face

[for Henry]

Why do I name them?

I’ve been asked why I name the outside cats.  There are three major reasons, one of which is shared with the cause for naming other wildlife (although I don’t post about that).

(1) It’s easier for me to talk to them when I’m not referring to each individual with the same name I use for every other individual.  “Hi, kitty” gets rather tired when that’s all I say despite the targets being a dozen different animals.  This is also true of other wildlife but only works when I’m certain I can tell them apart.

(2) It’s easier for me to write about them.  Whether blogging or writing in my offline journal, constantly referring to an animal as “Kako’s double” or “Vazra’s lady friend” eventually becomes tedious.  So long as I know the creature that goes with each name, using anything else is a waste of time.

(3) It’s easier for me to organize my photos when I can go to a specific name knowing precisely what I’ll find.

Given the explanation, I’m announcing three new names and a bit of reorganization.

Let me begin by saying all of the stray/outside/feral cats I’ve named (and will name in the future) have been moved out of the The Kids structure in both categorization and image placement.  That includes both Chira and Larenti.  They’ve been moved to a new “wildlife” section in both regards.  I don’t like including them in the general results for everything about my cats and think this works better.  Those changes have already been included in the updated sidebar.

Next, let me tell you the names for the three most recent “regular” feline visitors from the outside world.

Kako‘s newest double will now be known as Henko.  The name is a chimera of Henry‘s name (for the white spot on its chest as seen in this photo) and Kako’s name (for being a black tabby).

The first Kako dopplegänger I discovered will now be known as Clance.  That name is a modification of Clarence.  Because Clance is cross-eyed, I thought it an appropriate moniker based on the 1965 movie Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion.  While I can’t argue that the movie itself is horrifically bad and unworthy of viewing by anyone anywhere, the title popped into my head and seemed appropriate given Clance is majorly cross-eyed.

And lastly, the new cat who looks like Larenti will be called Aethon.  That’s the ancient Greek god of famine.  Why is that appropriate?  This poor cat eats an enormous amount of food and gives me the impression it’s starved—or famished.  I’ve only observed the feline eating here perhaps a handful of times, yet it never fails the poor thing will consume almost all of what’s available and even waits from time to time for me to put more out there—which it then eats most of before finally scurrying off in a satisfied state.  I’m concerned that is a sign of internal parasites but likewise hope it’s a sign it’s been going hungry for a while and isn’t eating anything other than what it gets from me.  Only time will tell.

In response to the names and the general change to what I consider related to The Kids, I’ve updated the sidebar and think I’ve updated all of the appropriate posts and links.

[Update] As for the pronunciations, here’s some guidance.  Henko is pronounced HANG-koh.  Aethon is pronounced A-thawn (a as in hay, and the ‘th’ in thon is hard like ‘the’).  Clance is… well, it’s dance with CL in place of the D.

My life’s miscellany

All from an e-mail conversation with Jenny.

Regarding my disinterest in pursuing jobs that will demand most of my time, energy, and mental capacity, all while giving little if anything in return:

See, it’s that situation with your job that has kept me from pursuing a couple of opportunities and two offers since I started looking for a job. I’m not doing it again. Ever. I can’t, Sweetie, and I’ll gladly accept lower pay — and adapt accordingly — to avoid it. I do not — WILL NOT — live to work. We should work to live; we should have opportunities to enjoy the fruits of our labor; we should know what it is not to think about work for the vast majority of weekends and off time. I have spent 20 years in this industry and in the working world itself. I’ll be 36 in four months and feel that everything was taken from me beginning with my first job. My kids deserve more. My family deserves more. My friends deserve more. I deserve more. Lee, Cedric, and I continued that conversation after you left Starbucks yesterday morning, and I adamantly made clear I’m not going to do it again. I can’t. I won’t. I refuse to.


As I said, those are the reasons I’m being picky about possible employment. I’m just not doing it again. I’ve had it and I’m not even 40. That’s sad. It’s also not uncommon in this country. Our capitalism must change. Otherwise, jobs go overseas and Americans belligerently approach all work.

And on the situation with Loki, and witnessing the unbearable:

Loki will be ten in February 2007. He’s not that old, although he can’t be considered young now (56 human years at his next birthday). That’s also why the concern is more for his heart because this is the normal age when cats would begin showing signs of heart disease. Asthma rarely shows up now; it’s far more likely when they’re young. And it is hard to see such a dramatic difference in him. It makes me cry often because he’s not the same cat. It’s like he’s been defeated for the first time in his life. That’s hard to watch. He’s always been superior to everything, although he has never challenged Grendel‘s alpha status. He could. And he would have won — but not now.

Followed by:

Loki too has a heart murmur. It goes with having an enlarged heart, although I’ve not mentioned it specifically. It’s the first time one showed up. Of course, it’s the first time the problem showed up, so that’s moot.

On being tired and worried:

I’m tired as well. I’ve not been sleeping well in almost a month. Vazra caused a great deal of that, and he still does. Loki’s situation has not helped and I wake each time anyone sneezes or coughs or so much as twitches. I’ve always been sensitive to what’s happening when I’m asleep. That’s helped with monitoring Kako for problems given her tendency to announce illness only when she’s on her deathbed. Grendel added to that with his asthma and hip problems. And Henry, of course, but it goes back much further than that. So I’m not sleeping well at all right now. I wish I could help. Talk about the suppressed leading the suppressed…