Monday, April 27, 2009

henry

I first saw him when he dashed across 12th Street in front of my car, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a few steps from the brownstone where I lived. I didn't see him again for a few days and was concerned, wondering what happened to him, where he had disappeared. A man stood across the street from me, watching me, obviously searching the block. "Are you looking for something?" "A cat, I think he's a stray. A black cat."
The man beckoned me over and said that a little black cat had been living in his basement for a week or so, but he already had three cats and didn't want another. He fetched his cat carrier and said if I was really interested, I should take him to the vet, get him checked out, to be sure he was healthy, and I could hold onto the cat carrier for as long as I needed. I nodded and he went into his basement to find the cat. I already had one cat, Baby, but I had a feeling about this one. As if he already belonged to me.

A few minutes later he was back, with the cat in his arms. He was smaller than I remembered, scrawny, and in the cat carrier in an instant. I thanked this neighbor I had never met before this day, and went home with my treasure. It was late afternoon, and I had been on the way to the store before this unexpected turn of events. As soon as I let the little cat out of the bag, Baby hissed as it tried to cozy up to her. I put some food and water in two bowls for our new family member, but realized that I was now out of cat chow and better go to the store. The two cats seemed OK, the little guy (I had determined it was a boy) sniffing around its new digs, and Baby watching him at a polite but wary distance.

I took off, going to the little bodega, the Yiyo, which was around the corner and a few blocks away. Just about ten, fifteen minutes to go there and back, buy some Purina and some cat litter. When I walked back into the apartment it seemed very quiet. Baby was just where she had been before I left, but the new cat was nowhere to be seen. I put some more food in his bowl, which Baby promptly dashed over to eat, and cleaned and replenished the litter box. No cat.

I lived in a fairly large, long, railroad apartment, so methodically checked each room. No cat. I made dinner, figuring the smell of food would bring him out. No cat. By 8pm I was starting to wonder where Baby had managed to hide the body. I called friends, my mom, my man, bewailing how I had "rescued" this poor animal, only to ensure its mysterious death and disappearance in my Brooklyn apartment.

At the stroke of midnight, still boring someone on the other end of the phone with my plight, I turned and watched the little black cat crawl out of the tiniest gap from under the gas stove, eat some cat chow, and nonchalantly stroll to the bathroom and take a dump in the litter box. The little Brooklyn street cat was nocturnal! Of course. It took about a week to get him to shift over to my human awake-during-the-day, sleep-at-night schedule. It took less time than that for a little regular food and love to change him from a skinny, scruffy-looking short-hair to reveal his true roly-poly long-haired Angora self.
That was over fifteen years ago. Now Henry is dying, and I'm feeling pressured to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. I don't want him to be in pain, but it is hard for me to understand how we can so calmly talk about "what's best" for an animal when we wouldn't even consider such alternatives (out loud) for a human being. I've never loved another pet as much as I've loved Henry. I don't feel right about ending his life. I hate the idea of it being done to fit my schedule or others'. Unnatural, is the word that keeps popping in my head. The lack of control I feel in this situation is just a microcosm of how the notion of control in our lives is just an illusion. But the bottom line is this is going to be a tough week, no matter how things pan out, whether I have to make the decision sooner or later, and I am going to have to take care of my daughter's feelings on top of all of this, as well as take care of my own. And of course, Henry's.

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