the diary thing 
I WAS TIRED AND JET-LAGGED when I sat down to breakfast after a late night in Burgos. Dennis got up from the next table and took me aside. "I was talking to Andrea last night," he said. Andrea is his wife, a good friend of K.'s. "She was on the phone with Kathleen. Your cat died yesterday."

I thanked him, sat down and finished my coffee in silence. 

SHE SEEMED OKAY before I left, probably not her usual energetic self, but I was certain she'd be there when I got home. It was probably a matter of a month, maybe two. I was hoping I'd have the strength to see when she was suffering and make the call to the vet. 

She got weaker about a day after I left, and developed a strange, wheezing cough. She stopped eating by Sunday, and K. became worried. There was diarrhea, and when she couldn't clean herself, K. resolved to call the vet the next day. She spent the night on the bed with her.

"The cancer's spread to her lungs," the vet said. "She's having trouble breathing."

K. asked to have a few moments with her alone. "She was very peaceful at the end," she told me on the phone when I called her from Salamanca. My poor little cat.

A FEW THINGS I REMEMBER about Nato. She weighed eight pounds at her heaviest. She was seven years old when she died. She was a long-haired black and white, with wispy, fine fur and orange-gold eyes. She had white paws and a little black patch on the right side of her nose. Obviously the runt of the litter, she always seemed scrawny and scruffy.

She could clear six feet in a single leap, and loved to crawl around on the overhead sprinkler pipes in our old loft. She also loved to tunnel, and crawled into bags, or under the sheets of our bed whenever she had a chance. 

She was bossy and domineering and hardly the calm little kitten I hoped would keep Keebler company; she started pushing him around when she was still a fraction his size, and kept it up till the end. He also has a few scratches to remember her by. At the same time, she was his best friend, and they slept together much of the day. He was twice her size, but he always let her eat first.

She was demanding and talkative. She had a large vocabulary of sounds and always spoke back when you talked to her, and even when you didn't. You always knew when she wanted something. She was coquettish; a real princess. I don't know what I did to spoil her, but I doubt that she ever felt that we were in charge around here.

Maybe it was the time I spent curled up on the sofa with her when, as a kitten, she had a nasty respiratory infection. I can't help but think of K., curled up on the bed with her on her last night. We always search for something significant, something that gives our loss shape and trajectory.

She constantly contrived to slip into photo shoots in my old studio, and even managed to get onto the cover of a jazz CD.

She's left behind a small pile of fur under my desk, and scratches on several pairs of my favorite boots, as well as on my desk chair, our wardrobes, the sofa, the spines of several books and LPs, the case for my glasses, and down the side of a pile of newspapers where she regularly sharpened her claws.

She broke the same glass coffee table, twice, along with an answering machine, and toppled a shelf of CDs and the speakers from the stereo.

She often slept on her back, with her paws in the air, and had a habit of shaking her right paw once before licking it to clean her face. She slept on my chest or across my legs every night when we watched t.v., or sat on the couch, watching us.


  "That loss is common would not make
  My own less bitter, rather more.
  Too common!"
- Tennyson
In Memorian

I have entries about Spain, and photos, waiting to go, but first -- a little elegy.
nato 1993 - 2000
I took this photo a couple of weeks ago, out on the deck. I knew -- somehow I knew -- that this might be my last chance. Probably not the best photo I ever took of her -- she loved to have her picture taken -- but the last, in any case, and the best way I'll ever have to remember her.

THE PLACE SEEMS EERIE and silent today, my first day back. "She was a real presence around here," K. said last night. Keebler is sleeping on the bed -- in Nato's spot, the first time he's been able to get on the bed in months, since she suddenly became so fiercely territorial about the bedroom, chasing him out with angry hisses. Until late last year, they usually slept there together. She became fiercely possessive of us around the time we discovered the first lump. These are the kind of things that, against your better judgement, make you wonder.

In Salamanca, I dreamed that she was walking across the pillow, over my head. In Barcelona, sleeping on the sofa-bed at John and Rosa's place, I woke up, certain I'd heard her purring on my chest, and then her plaintive, sharp meow. It was my own snoring, no doubt, and the squeak of a bedspring. 

She'd be on the windowsill next to me right now, or under the desk. Restless as usual, she'd get up frequently to meow at me, jump onto my lap, and knead at my shirt. It was impossible to ignore her.

"We'll always have a hole in our life where Nato is concerned," K. said when I called her from Spain, and she's right.

WHENEVER YOU'RE HAPPY, or have at least found a way of living with unhappiness, you always assume that, if you're careful, things can stay the same forever. Grief happens when we discover how false that assumption was. 

OTHER ANIMALS I HAVE KNOWN: there was Coco, the poodle my mother bought me, and Sparky was the sole surviving pup from her litter, who my sister adopted. Mitzi was Coco's sister; my cousin Terry brought her home when my mother bought Coco. My buddy Rock and Roll Dave had a little dog named Pepper, who always acted like a puppy until the day he didn't. 

There was Buddy, the big, friendly dog I found abandoned  in the country, who also joined my sister's family. Cab was a siamese, Keebler's surly playmate when he lived with my friend Howie. Osiris was Scott and Christiane's tabby -- I don't think they're over him yet. I only knew Dipstick and Joey for a week or so, staying at K.'s parents this last Christmas, but they'd been in her family for years before they died, a week apart, early in the new year. 

It's so hard to think about this without veering dangerously close to irredeemable sentimentality. I will, no doubt, outlive countless animals over the years, until the day when one outlives me. One day Keebler will be gone, and then, years from now, the kitten we'll pick up from the Humane Society tomorrow to replace Nato. The names will make a long list, and our grief will become a habit, our responses to it learned. We'll teach our children about grief, to prepare us for the day we leave them behind. 

Still, I'm sitting here next to some photos, and the card the vet filled out the first day I brought Nato to him, seven years ago, the same vet who told us about her heart murmur, and who quietly ended her suffering a week ago. I'm trying not to cry, and I'm trying to think of something cogent to say, something that sums up the relatively brief time I spent with my little cat.

I ALWAYS THOUGHT NATO would be a good name for a cat. It was.

and writing 
Rick McGinnis
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