Thank You, Clarence

Every so often, I love someone at first sight, and I’ve never been wrong about a person I loved at first sight.  A couple of them, I dated first before veering back into friend territory.  A couple were gals, so it went right to friend territory, because, well, I’m hetero, apparently.  Clarence was love at first sight.  He looked me dead in the eye as he sauntered up to me, and that was it; I adopted my first cat.  We ran off into the sunset, till death do us part.  Thank you, Clarence, for making me fall in love with you.

My mom used to say Clarence was more like a dog, and that maybe, just maybe, this was because I’d only had dogs growing up, and therefore didn’t know how to raise a cat.   It’s a good theory.  But I think Clarence was as Clarence was, long before he captured my heart.  He had a fully formed personality.  Thank you, Clarence, for always being you.

The vet estimated that Clarence was about eight months old when I adopted him in the fall of 1999, so I assigned his birthday in February, the same day as my Dad’s.  He was frisky, and loving, and incredibly social, and had a high need for people food.  If you were cooking in my kitchen, you had to deal with Clarence underfoot.  Or sneaking up on the counter.  Or standing on hind legs blindly swiping at anything he could knock off of the counter.  If, I mean, when, he’d score something, he’d do a jump/spin/pounce onto the scored food item while eliciting a sound that sounded at once gleeful and surprised, with a hint of “back the fuck off people.”   In every case, the cook wanted to be irritated, but one really couldn’t stay irritated, because Clarence had mad skills which demanded respect. He was like a fat, ginger-haired, ninja.  Kudos, Clarence.  Kudos.

He was a food whore, pure and simple.  Take the case of the stolen chicken breast.  (In truth, there is some dispute as to whether this was fish or chicken, but I’m going with chicken here.)  There were chicken breasts in a skillet, on the burner, on flame.  ON FLAME.  Big C somehow freed one of these breasts and was running down the hall with it.  His triumphant run was also what gave him away.  My dinner companion ran after him.  Clarence turned his head and hissed, and when he did, the chicken breast fell from his mouth and my companion retrieved it.  Clarence just looked up with huge, sad, defeated eyes that said “Awwww, man.”  I personally would have just let him keep it, because I wasn’t going to eat that shit after all of that—but it’s what happened.  But, kudos once again, Clarence.  You were a BOSS in the kitchen.

The girls’ grandparents all complained about Clarence’s begging ways, but I also found each and every one of them giving him all manner of food (biscuits, cream, tuna, doughnuts, you name it) so, their complaints eventually fell on my deaf ears.  I say this with profound love for all involved.  Thank you, family.  Thank you friends.  Thank you, Clarence.

Big C was also an energy whore.  On the rare occasions I would do acupuncture on a patient at my house, Clarence would get as close to the needles, without touching them, as felinely possible.  He would put his face right next to the needle, close his eyes, and breathe slowly.  I shit you not.  Often times, when I was meditating, I would suddenly feel like someone was very near to me, but not touching me.  Peeking down, I would see Clarence’s nose about .0005 mm away from my fingers.  Eyes half closed, smiling, and breathing. Righteous, dude.  He was also game for in home massages, my in-home yoga practice, or art projects that took place on the floor.  Namaste, Guru Clarence.  Namaste.

He loved my desk, and “helping me” work.  About a few days before he died he stopped going up, and started hanging out under the desk.  Clarence helped me study for my boards, write my dissertation, learn how to bill insurance (ugh), pay taxes, and create Christmas Cards and baby announcements.  He was always right there—and I do mean right there—often atop critical papers.  He liked when people were concentrating, I think.  You were cheaper (I think) and more effective (I know) than Adderall, Clarence, so thank you for keeping me off drugs.

Prior to adopting me, Clarence lived with a homeless man near Larchmont Village in Los Angeles.  He was subsequently adopted by a young man, but the young man had a German Shepherd that scared Clarence, so the young man kept C outside.  The young man had named Clarence a very undignified “Fawn.”   My friend Susan Hirsch, who I have not been able to contact in years, is one of those folks that neuters all the strays in her neighborhood.  She knew my then-boyfriend was looking for a cat, and was on the lookout.  Susan and her husband Peter were walking their dogs one night before they left for a concert, and the dogs scared “Fawn” up a tree.  When they returned from the concert—the Bruce Springsteen show that opened The Staples Center—it was pouring rain, and Clarence was still in the tree, shivering.   Peter climbed up and rescued “Fawn.” Not knowing to whom Fawn belonged, Peter and Susan took him home to clean, dry, feed, and love him.  But they couldn’t keep him for Peter had essentially “spayed” Susan; she was not allowed to keep any more animals.  Thank you, Peter, for spaying your wife, which cleared the way for me to have Clarence.

Susan was upset when called me: “This cat is not a feral cat, he is a people cat!  I can not bear to return him to the previous owner, because this cat needs to be around humans more.  Does _____ want him??  Well, ____ was out of town, so I went to have a look on his behalf.  And I fell in love at first sight.  So, that was that.  Again, thank you Clarence.

But, I thought Fawn was a wus-ass name for a big boy cat, so I needed to rename him.  As it turns out, _____ and I had been at the same Bruce Springsteen concert that Susan and Peter had attended the night they saved Fawn.  At first I entertained the notion of calling him The Boss, which certainly would have worked, and on occasion, I would call him that.  But I had also fallen in love with Clarence Clemons that night—he was a cool cat with a sax, after all—so Fawn was renamed a much more dignified Clarence Clemons.  Thank you Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for unwittingly providing my dude a name more fitting for a dude.

A few years later, in 2003, I was in New Zealand with Michael D.  We’d had an amazing trip, but on our last full day we were notified that the U.S. had gone to war with Iraq, that it was uncertain if air space would be shut down, and that we should arrive very early to the airport in case flights needed to leave ahead of schedule.  Once in line, we found ourselves in line behind Little Steven of the E Street Band.  Bruce had played Auckland the night before, and various members of the band were there in line.  Michael was stoked because he was a big Sopranos fan, and of Little Steven’s character on the show.  I voted not to bug him; I generally do not bother celebs.  For one thing, I rarely recognize them.  For another thing, I try not to interrupt total strangers while they are trying to go about their life.  And lastly, I always think, “they are just trying to get through this hideous line like I am, and what am I gonna say, anyway?  ‘Hey!  I know who you are!’”  If I don’t have something of some apparent value or interest to say to someone, I generally keep my yap shut.  So, there was some elbowing, eye-brow raising, and whispering between Michael and I, but we let Little Steven be.  Michael asked if I’d talk to Clarence Clemons if we ran into him.  I thought about, and said, “Well, yes, I mean, I named my cat after him, after all.”   I had something to say to The Big Man that was not completely meaningless.

Sometime later, Michael and I went into separate stores to do some last-minute shopping, and when I walked out, Clarence Clemons was standing there, alone.  So, I walked up.  Just then, Michael happened to approach from my right, and silently fell in line with me.  As I approached, I thought, “Holy.  Toledo.  He’s HUGE.”  I mean, I knew he was bigger than Bruce, but Bruce is not that tall, so I just had no idea how incredibly large Clarence Clemons really was.  I also had no idea what exactly I was going to say. But when I smiled at Clarence to cue him that I was about to invade his privacy, he gave me a big smile back. I held out my hand for a handshake, and blurted out, “You’re so cool I named my cat after you!”

Clarence took my hand in his—my arm, really, because the dude had some seriously big hands—laughed and asked, “Is he a black cat, honey?”

“No, he’s orange!” I laughed, and thought, “And, thank God, because now I don’t look like a huge racist.”

“But he’s a BIG cat,” Michael offered, smiling up at The Big Man.

“And cool,” I added.

Clarence laughed, and said, “Well, we’re ALL cool cats, honey!”

So, thank you, Clarence the Big Cat for giving me a reason to meet Clarence the Big Man.

An aside:  Clarence Clemons is the only celeb I have ever approached, I think, unless you count the time I initiated an exchange with John Malkovich, after mistaking him for someone else.  Mr. Malkovich, was noticeably confused, but it was early in the morning, and I was sleepy yet undaunted.  Once we left the coffee shop, my friend asked me who I thought that was.  When I told her, she said, “Um, no.  That was John Malkovich, dummy.”    “Ah,” I said.  “No wonder he looked so confused.” 

My only other real celeb approach would be when I accidentally stepped on someone’s foot.  I was on Larchmont Ave, trying to navigate the crowd.   When I looked up to say, “Sorry!”   I recognized that it was Antonio Banderas. I immediately thought, “Oh.  That’s Antonio Banderas. Huh, you really are strikingly handsome in real life.” Although that thought probably took a millisecond to pass through my mind, I decided I’d gone too long staring up at him with no words coming out of my face, so I quickly turned on my heels and headed into a store I had no intention of frequenting prior to this encounter. I then spent 30 minutes laughing at myself, because, hey, that was SMOOOOOOTH, sister.

But those are stories for another day.  Had I named my cat after those fellas, those encounters may have been less awkward.  Dammit, Clarence.

Clarence was a playful kitten, and regularly “taught” me games that he wanted me to play with him.  We communicated non-verbally amazingly well, so who needs words?  A ridiculous thing for a person writing a blog to say, I realize, but there ya have it.  I’d say “thank you” here, but he knows.  He knew.

Clarence was suspicious when we brought my other cat, Samuel Clemens, into the mix, but eventually he mothered and nurtured shy Sammy.  They napped together most days.  But we had to feed Sammy separately, or Clarence would eat all of his food; a clear “alpha” move.    Thank you, Clarence, for showing me that you could nurture another being without losing your identity.

They say cats have nine lives, and I definitely saw Clarence live through a few.  Once, when Clarence was two or three, he suffered a string of UTIs.  Oddly, I had a UTI at the same time, but Clarence’s cost about five times what mine did, a fact that left me suspicious of vets.   During one visit, they informed me that while performing an ultrasound of his bladder, they discovered he had a hole in his diaphragm and that his liver was attached to his heart.  The vet said that if untreated, he would die before he turned five.  The surgery to repair it was several thousand dollars and there was a 50 percent chance Big C would die on the table.  Really?!   He didn’t have any symptoms of this alleged ailment, but I was distraught.  Ramsay talked me down with logic, and Clarence eventually lived to be almost 17.  Thank you, Ramsay.  Thank you, Clarence.

Clarence saw me through heartaches, and small triumphs.  He saw me through the addition of a cat, then a man, then a kid, then another kid, then the permanent subtraction of a kid, the more ephemeral subtraction of a man, and the 50% subtraction of my living child.  He was there for me through all of that.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Clarence.

Well, except that time he took off just minutes before I had to leave to catch a plane last March.  And then did not come home.  I was concerned at first.  Then a bit panicked.  But I tried to focus on moving forward while still making efforts to locate him.  After two weeks, I thought, “Well, I guess I didn’t get to say goodbye, and that really, really sucks.”  I was sad, but not as sad as I thought I’d be.  I thought this might either mean that after losing a child, nothing really phases you. Or, that maybe I was still in a bit of shock, so things still weren’t registering as deeply, or that he might not be gone gone, just gone.  I went through my days as usual, but had a pang, of “Oh, Clarence, what the hell happened to you?”   And “Please God, save him from suffering.”   Oh, Clarence.

We’d had a 16th birthday party for him a few weeks earlier, at Grace’s suggestion.  Because Grace, she loves a party too.   We invited Alice’s buddy Aria and her parents, because we love them, and they often care for our cats if we are away for the night.  We gave Clarence tuna, and made cupcakes and sang to him.  All Grace’s idea.  We videotaped the event, also at Grace’s suggestion.   She wanted him to have a real party, and in the wake of his disappearance, I was so glad that we had done so.    Thank you, Grace.  Thank you, Jen.  Thank you, Aria.

And then Big C came back.  He was skinny (he had never before been skinny) and seemingly dehydrated when he returned.  A bit loopy.  I wasn’t sure if it were age, illness, or dehydration.  After a few days, he bounced back, but he was really never the same.  Some nights there was no begging, and when there was begging, it was quiet and polite, which was not his usual manner at all. We moved this past April–the cats always hate a move– and the new place has no AC, which was unfortunate, as it was one of the consistently hot summers I can remember in my 20 years in Los Angeles.  (twenty years?!?!)  Clarence mainly just laid around.  He didn’t really seek out attention much, unless we had guests.  Except for about 24 hours of his sweet life, Clarence still went to greet the people.  He loved getting right in the middle of it.  You were always an excellent host.  Thank you, Clarence.

The week before he passed on, I could tell he was going.  I just knew.  There were no truly overt symptoms other than his appetite was down considerably, even for fish and chicken.  Tuna juice still got him up-and-at-‘em, however. And he was skinny.  Really skinny.

But, I knew.  I decided not to take him to the vet.  I’ve watched a few friends spend enormous amounts of money and time, performing heroic acts of medical care daily to keep their pets around a few more months, and I just wasn’t sure Clarence and I needed or wanted that.  Absolutely no judgment towards anyone else’s decisions for their pet, I just didn’t think it was the right for Big C and I.   If he was five, or 10, or even 12, I may have felt differently.  But he was nearly 17.  If I knew what was wrong with him, I would feel compelled to treat it, because it’s in my nature.  And I could tell that whatever was going on with Clarence, was not minor.  If I didn’t know what was wrong, I could let him go more gracefully, I thought.  This was an immediate and effortless decision.   I felt that he was going, and then I decided not to get in the way of that.  And you know what?  He only really suffered visibly for about 24 hours this way.  I could not have endured another hour of watching him suffer, but in the end, he had less than one full day of enormous suffering in a a lifetime of over 6,000 days.  That ain’t bad, really. It was all I could take observing, mind you, but it ain’t bad. I didn’t want to put him the car (which he grew to hate over the years), drag him to the vet (which he also hated), to find out I had to give him pills (hate), injections (hate) or catheters (hatehatehate) every day to keep him around a few more months. I’m not judging those that do AT ALL.  I just could tell Clarence was on his way, and I didn’t have it in me (nor do I believe he had it in him) to drag it out.  Clarence and I had always been able to read each other, and the end was no different.  Thank you Clarence, from the bottom of my heart, for being able to communicate to me, even at the end.   What an incredible gift.

Friday, October 23rd, was when it first hit me that he was transitioning out of here.  But he was still eating, and peeing, and walking, so I let him be, and loved him.   He smelled funny.  I loved him more.    On Saturday, I told Grace that I didn’t think Clarence would be with us much longer, and that she should hug him and say goodbye, just in case Clarence wasn’t here when she came back on Wednesday.  I had no idea whatsoever how long Clarence really, had.  Grace suggested that she take a picture of me holding him so that, “you will always remember loving and holding him.”  So, we did that.  And took a selfie of the three of us.  Thank you, Grace.  You are something special, my child.

Again, I had no evidence that Big C would go so quickly, what I said to Grace just sort of flew out of my mouth.  Sunday, we had a party. And he was pretty chill considering we had a party.  On Monday, he came over to me as soon as he heard me crack open the tuna can, which I believe was his last meal.  But he was ambulatory, and eating some, and drinking and peeing, so I just kept watch.  Monday night was where it turned.  At 10 p.m., I found him crying, staring at the wall, sitting in a puddle of pee about six inches away from the litter box.  I cleaned him up a bit, and set him up on a towel in the doorway with food and water near his face.  I cried.  This wasn’t good.  I’m sorry, Clarence, that you ever suffered even one instant.

On Tuesday morning I found him deep under my desk, instead of on top of the desk—and all of my projects—as was his way.  He never came back from under that desk.  He cried if I went under to see him, but he was OK if I sat working at my desk.  So, I did a lot of extra desk work that day.  I wrote for hours for the first time in months.  It had been the longest writer’s block I’ve ever experienced, and though I was incredibly sad about my boy, it felt good to get “unstuck.”  Thank you, Clarence, for breaking up my writer’s block one last time.

That afternoon, he started to try to throw up a hair ball, and fell over in the process. I then knew if he didn’t go soon, I’d have to put him down.  I’ve never had to put a pet down, and I was distraught that I might have to actively end his life.  I called a couple of friends for referrals for in-home euthanasia.  I just could not conceive of putting him, in pain, in a car that he hated, to go to a vet that he hated, to go and die in a strange place.   I just couldn’t.  Please God, please Clarence, don’t make me put my boy down.

I played mantras all day.  I know this sounds ridiculous, but I felt a need to make his exit as peaceful as possible.  I mostly played the Gaytri Mantra as sang by Deva Premal, as it has brought me great peace and comfort the last two years since losing Alice. I lit some candles as night fell.  I mediated and prayed near him, begging God to take him so that I didn’t have to do it.  Several times, in tears, I tried to go under the desk with him, but he clearly didn’t like it.  Later, a dear, dear friend came over to be with us that night.  Eventually, we turned off all the lights, left the music going and candles lit, and let Clarence be.  We watched TV, and I cried so much that my eyes eventually swelled shut.  I begged and prayed some more.  I checked on him at 10 p.m.  He was breathing hard, but not as hard as when I tried to lay near him.  I told him that I loved him, that he was the best cat ever, and that he’d helped me so much.  I thanked him.  And then I retreated and loved him from a distance that he was comfortable with.  Leaving him was incredibly hard to do, but again, thank you Clarence.  Thank you for being so clear in your communication that I knew to leave you alone, despite what I would have tended to do.

I woke up at 4:20 a.m. I heard a single cry, I think, that woke me up.  But then it was quiet.  I was disoriented and half asleep.  I decided not to get up.  He very clearly didn’t want anyone near him, and I didn’t want to make it worse for him.  Or me.  If I stayed up until the euthanasia vet came in the morning, that would be two nights in a row with very little sleep, and I now know that not getting enough sleep for even two nights in a row leaves me very susceptible to retriggering  PTSD  symptoms.  A death of a loved one is another highly potential trigger.  If I thought I could have helped Clarence, or that he wanted me to be there, I would have stayed up anyway.  But Clarence very clearly wanted to be alone.  This was very hard for me.  But this wasn’t about me.  This was Clarence’s exit, and I was going to give him his way.  Whatever you want, Clarence.  Whatever you need.

I checked on him at 7 a.m., and he was gone.  I was both distraught, and relieved.  Thank you, God.

And God Bless you forever, my sweet Clarence.

Clarence was not yet cold, so I do believe he passed around the time I woke up.  I laid down with him, and cried.   Sixteen years of faithful love he gave me, and I gave him.   As Fran said, “He was your soul kitty.”   Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your 16 years of faithful love and service, Clarence.

I was beyond sad, but I was also very relieved that I did not have to put him down.  That would have been too hard for me, after all I’ve been through.  But it also meant, that this was the second time in two years that a being I loved died while I was sleeping.  This was not as horrific as Alice’s loss, mind you, but not simply because was a cat.  It was less difficult because I saw it coming-it was not a surprise; I had the chance to process it a little, before he went; because I knew he had lived an amazing full life; and because I could read him and help him exit in the way I could tell he wanted to exit. Clarence saw me through losing Alice, through a massive (and dreaded) move, and through the end of a marriage.  Two years later, even I can tell that I’ve rounded some bend now (and I’m usually the last to know), and Clarence, energy whore that he was, knew it too.  He waited to go until I was OK.  And I will always be grateful to him for that. Thank you, Clarence, for waiting to pass until I had my feet back underneath me, and for making your end-wishes clear.

I am grateful beyond words that he did not suffer long, and that I did not have to put him down.  The only time in my life I have had to put an animal down, was a severely wounded stray I found in my yard a few weeks before Alice died.  I have neither the money or steadiness of heart to care for every stay I see, but this poor dog was in my yard, in intense pain, filled with fear, and could not walk.  I had to do something.  I called my dear friend Betsy, who is like a sister to me, because she is big in the animal rescue world, and wondered if she knew a vet that would help me with the wounded stray. He was mangey, and so sweet, and scared, and it just tore my heart out.  Betsy met me and the doggy at her vet.  It turned out that the poor baby had a severed spine and spinal cord, so the kind vet recommended euthanasia.  I was shaking and crying.  Betsy was crying, because Betsy is like the living patron saint of wounded dogs. I held the poor guy and told him I loved him as he mellowed out on the first shot, and then saw the light go out after the second shot.  I had never before been present when a being died.  The vet said, “That dog will come back as President one day, and we did the right thing by him here today.” I was a complete mess the rest of the day, and for days after.  It was an event that had a profound affect on me.  And frankly, I’m crying now.  Thank you Betsy, for helping me through that day.

Oh, dear.  In checking back through text messages, I realize that this happened the day before Alice’s second birthday, just twelve days before she died.   I’ve often wondered if that situation was part of the Universe’s way of preparing me for Alice’s death.

Or maybe no.  Come to think of it, it wasn’t.  Because nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for the death of your young child.

Unfortunately, I know now that it costs more to cremate your cat than it does your child, which is completely fucked up.  Add to that the knowledge that it costs five times more for your cat to have an UTI than it does for you—a human with insurance— to have an UTI, and it leaves you feeling like you should have gone to veterinary school.  But in reviewing Clarence’s life here, this knowledge helps me feel good about not taking him to the vet when I knew it was his time.  Clarence didn’t want to go to the vet, I know.  I didn’t want to take him to the vet either.  Saying goodbye to Big C was very hard.  But Clarence and I said our goodbyes in a natural way, and this, I believe, worked for us.  We did it his way, and I handled his way the best I could, in my own way. Which is essentially the way our entire relationship went for 16 years, so thank you for the consistency, Clarence.

Thank you, Clarence for owning me, for allowing me to care for you, for caring for me and my family, for 16 years.  You were like no other. Now, go play with Alice.  I’ll meet you guys there when my work here is done.  Leave me a place at your table, OK?  And don’t eat all the damn food.  Or do eat all the damn food, I don’t care.  I’ll love you the same either way, thank you very much.

Rest in Peace

Clarence Clemons Monroe
(??), 1999- October 28, 2015

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Shirley Barbula
    November 16, 2015
    Reply

    Melissa,
    Yet another beautifully moving piece of writing. I am not a “cat person,” but you gave me such a vivid portrait of Clarence I was able to feel the love you had for him. Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your gifts with us. Love, Shirley

    • admin
      November 17, 2015
      Reply

      Thank you so very much for reading, and for supporting me Shirley. Lots of love to you.

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