Category Archives: Kazon


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.

Something breaks beneath my skin

Henry David Thoreau once wrote that “the poem of the world is uninterrupted.”  How true that is.  And yet, like every other bit of poetry, the poem of the world has its endings, with each line and each stanza braking for the next, each a whole world of beginnings and endings, for the poem of the world overflows with beginnings and endings, each sentence and each stanza ripe with untold starts and stops.  And while the beginnings cannot exist without their endings, and while the poem itself cannot exist or move forward without both, often it is the endings that give us pause, that catch our breath, that force us to face what we’ve just read, what we’ve just experienced.  Still, the poem of the world is uninterrupted no matter how much it feels otherwise when we reach one of those endings…

He lay quietly, wrapped in my shirt, cradled gently in my arms as a father would hold a child.  Staying my own trembles required more effort than I imagined existed in all the world, yet I prevailed.  No amount of weakness borne of anguish could overcome my desire to see him tended.  I would not fail him.

Whispers of my love danced from my lips until they fell upon his ears in quiet so profound it beckoned the universe to hush so it might hear me.  My hands moved nimbly over his fur in strokes of passion deep and heartfelt.  Beneath my soft caress his body trembled slightly, weakly, a strain against my embrace in defiance of what was to come.  I knew no creature could survive what he faced, no body could withstand it.  I knew he was dying.

I leaned my face close to his in that way I often did, and I gently spoke to him, halting abruptly only to listen as he feebly whimpered.  His weakening breath softly brushed my face.  It was like a kiss to me, and it engendered a tear that fell just beyond his neck and landed on the tattered cloth of a shirt I would never wear again.  Briefly, my eyes fixated on the darkness it created there, a small and insignificant spot of salt water, and I stared at it absently.

His trembles became weaker still and I shifted my focus back to his small face.  Eyes bright as stars on a moonless night stared back at me, a loving gaze that washed over my face and seemed to push the air out of the room.  I wanted to bathe in it, to wash my whole body in that scrutiny.  And yet I knew I would never see it outside the harshly lit room in which we stood.  Too much had happened; too many pains had befallen such a small soul.

Racked by guiltless longing for what could never be, I leaned ever closer to his face and kissed him gently through my own growing sobs.  He needn’t worry for me, needn’t add my own trepidation to his own, so I struggled against the lamentations welling up within my essence and denied them voice.  It had to be his time, his moment, his wisp of the cosmos defined in a sterile room tucked away in cheap offers of peace.  I would not fail him.

So I snuggled him closely and let his waning pants lick my cheeks, my nose, my lips in vast smallness only he could define.  Their flavor slipped from me, grew increasingly distant.  I wanted to take within my own flesh all the suffering and pain he felt.

Was there no offering I could make by which to trade places with him?  Was there no hope of granting his flesh a part of the life I still carried?

As he slipped away, I inhaled his final essence, the last breathing from a suddenly lifeless body, and into me I took it with force and selfishness.  I would hold my breath for the rest of my life if it meant I could keep that part of him with me always.

Finally streams of sorrow marched down my cheeks and fell around his halo-lit countenance.  Letting him go was not an option.  I would rend my heart upon the same shirt in which he was wrapped, cast it upon the floor holding up my feet, and all if it meant just one more moment, one more cry, one more touch from a life taken too soon.

So cries this love.  So weeps this season of hollow.

A close-up of Kazon, one of my cats, backlit by sunlight (2009_02_28_011609)

September 1998 – July 2011

A morning kiss, a discreet touch of his nose
landing somewhere on the middle of my face.
Because his long whiskers tickled,
I began every day laughing.
— Janet F. Faure

I have to kill him

Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects.  The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories.
— Elie Wiesel

A close-up of Kazon, one of my cats, as he looks up at me (2008_12_27_003706)

I wondered when it would come to this.  I didn’t think it would be him.  And even as the mist of denial thinned, eventually cleared, I told myself to hold on, to wait, to “give it time” in that usual male way: ignore something and it might clear up.  That’s why we don’t rush to the doctor even when we’ve lost a limb and are gushing blood.  It might clear up on its own.  Just wait a little bit.  That’s why we don’t ask for directions.  We say we know the way even when we secretly know that we don’t and that we hope we’ll stumble, blind luck in hand, upon the right path.  Just wait.  Give it time and I’ll find the road.  Or so I generalize.  Not all men are like that, you know, and not that those who are realize how stultifying it is, but as they say, if the stereotype fits…

It began with the slightest loss of weight.  Not much, perhaps only a pound, give or take, yet I notice these things.  It immediately connected with something else I’d noticed: a growing self-imposed isolation.  This, too, came with its sidekick: a burgeoning lethargy.  Amazing what we notice but set aside when we don’t want to face the facts.  Or when we’re tucking tidbits away in the file of What Must Be Faced until the folder holds enough contents to warrant action.

When Henry began suffering from acute renal failure, his weight sloughing off quickly, his personality vanishing beneath the constant hiding from the world, Derek asked me if I had noticed, if I realized what his condition was and where it was going.  Of course I had, I told him, and I had.  Only I had also secretly hoped—not prayed as I’m not a religious man, but as near to that as I could come—really, really hoped that it was temporary.  Yet the downfall accelerated and I could see what was coming.  I knew what I had to do.  Yet Henry’s life of twenty-one-plus-change years had been rich and full and rare, and certainly longer than anyone had expected, though Mom and I had imagined it all that time.  He’ll outlive all of us.  That was our mantra when it came to Henry, and he sure as heck gave it his best shot.

In the same light, and certainly with the same symptoms that vociferously yelled “acute renal failure” at me with every breath, Kazon began his headlong plunge only a few weeks ago.  Again, it started with a bit of weight loss, not much, but noticeable to me, the man who knows their every mood, their every idiosyncrasy, their every vocalization.  Me, who knows when something is amiss almost as quickly as the cat knows.  Yes, I saw it coming then and felt betrayed.  Henry was one thing.  More than two decades he had, and he lived them, absolutely and unabashedly lived them for all he was worth.  But Kazon?  He’ll be thirteen in September this year.  Too young.  Too soon.

Nevertheless, and without doubt the first sign of knowing—truly knowing that you have to let go, I denied it, pushed it away, told myself it was the onset of summer, though no such summer before had resulted in these changes.  But even in my momentary denial, I knew.  I knew.  For as I said, I’ve been down this road before.  The signs are familiar.  I can read them before they’re visible around the next bend.  I know this road, and I hate this road.

It can be said that I will feel the impending gloom and loss just as weighty with any of The Kids when their time finally comes.  Such a statement would strike me as obvious, as if one had said summer is hot, or playing in the rain is worth catching cold, or you either prefer jelly or jam once you stop to notice the difference.  Obvious.  Truisms all.  Some of life’s little axioms.  And equally true though it might be that the emotional impact of seeing one of The Kids stepping through their final days would hit me hard, would steal from me something that could never be regained, each is a different loss, hence Kazon brings to bear its own singular lassitude of heart and mind, its own lachrymose goal that is both unavoidable and dismaying.

Doctors tell only what is already known.  Acute.  Not responsive.  Not long.  And though I am thankful for the inherent finality that says no more suffering, I am left with the pugilistic instinct to avoid what comes next, to deny it, as though denying such a thing can be done, can be successful, can result in anything more than unnecessary suffering.  Which I can’t allow.

As I sat thinking in that way I did so long ago when I set my mind to the task of ending Henry’s life, I sat today quarreling with the aspects of me who each had an opinion about when, how, what comes first, and so on.  Surprisingly, the voice that won out was the logical one, the one who stopped us at the words “put to sleep” and said with the steely voice of logic, “You mean ‘kill.'”  My breath caught in my chest, held still by a weight I could not bear.  My eyes darted to and fro in a vain effort to avoid the mirror of my mind.  He was right, I knew, in that cold, calculating, unfeeling way he was known for.  But that was the logical part of me, the one who could cut through the crap and see right to the point, apolitical, stoic, unmoving and unflinching.  He was right.

What tattered and threadbare blankets we throw over that word—kill—all to make ourselves feel better for what we’re about to do.  Translucent, they are, none of them of sufficient substance to hide the crimson writ beneath their thin veils.  The word remains, the result the same, and only our vulpine ability to deceive ourselves makes it seem otherwise.

We butcher a cow or a pig on the farm, and saying ‘butcher’ helps us put the act in context, the context of putting food on the table, of providing sustenance so that life can go on even while it’s ending.  For that’s the essence of life, isn’t it?  Something has to die in order for something else to live?

We say “put to death” when capital punishment is carried out.  We feel the offense warrants death, but we don’t want to admit we’re killing someone, and we know it sends the wrong signal when we tell our kids that killing is wrong whilst all the while we do it in the dank and dark recesses of our prisons.  But since they deserve it, their crime being so terrible and all, we say “put to death” so we can avoid the paradox: If killing is wrong, and if revenge killing is even worse…

We charge someone with manslaughter when they cause the death of someone else in a way that doesn’t quite warrant the murder moniker.  This lessens the blow to the jury, lets them ponder the situation with a softer edge than would otherwise be possible, and we throw the full weight of the law behind the new name for killing so it takes on an air of officialism, of rightness.

We “pull the plug” when we remove a loved one from artificial life support and allow them to die naturally.  Perhaps their living will stated this clearly, perhaps their spouse or responsible party said this is what they wanted, that they never wanted to be a living vegetable.  No matter the reason, we know the end result but can’t tell ourselves that we are killing somebody, so we quietly pull the plug and weep alligator tears to wash away our guilt.

We “put down” or “put to sleep” an ailing animal when we know the future holds only suffering, only prolonged death stretched like bubblegum from Death’s naked teeth.  They were a good horse, a faithful companion of a dog, the most loving cat, a bird so affectionate you wouldn’t believe…  In our feeling turmoil, the idea of killing them offends us so deeply that we can’t fathom giving time to the thought, so we put them down or put them to sleep instead.

And here is where Logical Me chimed in originally.  The emotional me, the caring me, held Kazon in my lap where he has spent so much of these past almost-thirteen years, and I spoke through my own tears the words “put to sleep” only to be corrected in my mind: “You mean ‘kill.'”  And after brief anger passed, I realized that was precisely what I meant: I have to kill him.

There are things I want to say about Kazon before the tide of this terror abates, before it washes back out into the ocean of existence and waits for the next pull, the next ending, the next killing.  There are stories I want to tell, photos I want to share.  I hope you’ll indulge me in this.  Or at least ignore me as I get through it as best I can.

I’ve never liked killing.  I especially never liked killing a loved one.  But I like the alternatives even less.  Perhaps what follows is catharsis of some kind, an attempt to reach that ludicrous and never-gained state of closure, something only doors and eyelids and windows really ever achieve.  Or maybe it’s my way of coping with loss, the coming loss, then the loss behind me on the trail, the scar of which only time can smooth down to just a trace of its once crimson self.

Change only happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go.

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.

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.