Goodbye to a Friend

Yesterday was a very sad day; we had to put our middle cat down. Jadey was almost 17 years old, and very healthy for most of her life. We weren’t planning anything of the sort, but her lower jaw had been giving her some trouble the past month and we brought her in for a follow up vet visit. Some aggressive tumors had grown in the two weeks’ time since the doctor had seen her last. Jadey was in pain and was having difficulty eating. The tumors were inoperable and growing fast. It was time for her to go.

Jadey was one of those pets you could call “the best cat ever”. She was a rescue cat, meaning she was up for adoption at a pet store. We don’t know much about her history. She was let out of a moving car somewhere in the Springfield MA area. She was pregnant. Some nice people brought her to a shelter where her kittens were delivered. Jadey was nearly a kitten herself, being a one-year old mom.

My wife and I were volunteers are the pet store’s cat shelter. When Jadey was brought in, we placed her kittens in homes and took her for ourselves. This was in the year 2000.

Jadey gave us a magnificent 16 years. She was an expert mouser, her last victory coming on the day she died. More on that adventure in a bit. First I want to tell you about the kind of friend she was. Because that’s what she was, a friend.

Jadey was “my cat”, meaning she bonded most closely with me. Cats sometimes pick one person for this unique relationship and I was hers. She gave me special handling privileges, prolonged eye contact and a basic vocabulary.

I could pick Jadey up on my slightest whim. Does that sound trivial? Have you ever tried to hold an uncooperative cat? Jadey did not like people holding her. She and I had an agreement; I could carry her anytime I wished, and she would delight in it, for as long as I wanted.

We had our way of holding; always on her right side, with her front paws hanging over my right wrist and my left arm cradling her horizontally. I have never held another cat like this and wouldn’t want to try. It doesn’t seem natural but with us it was very much so.

Another part of handling privileges were the mock fights we’d have. We would have wonderful battles, my hand vs. the laying calico. Inevitably, she would be on her back and I would place my hand directly over her face, grabbing it with all four fingers and thumb, gently shaking her head. She would firmly hold my forearm with both paws until I let go. Purring, all the while.

Jadey caught a mouse at 1:30 AM, the morning of her last day. She brought the live creature to us in our bedroom, and called out repeatedly for us to turn on the lights to see. She was so very proud to have brought her conquest to us! After some frantic and hilarious moments we took the unharmed mouse to a field where it would live another day. Jadey went back to bed, a very satisfied girl. The old lady still had it, till the end.

Let me tell you how she talked. Her vocabulary was such that she had phrasing for “no”, “hello”, “oh hi”, and “that feels very nice”. She knew when and what to say to us, and knew what we meant when we spoke to her, as well.

Our family has lost one of its own and we are terribly sad. There is so much to feel badly about, it’s nearly overwhelming. We were all in this together, all five of us, three cats and two people. We were a unit.

We have plans to move to South Carolina one day. It hurts to think Jadey won’t be a part of that. I’m sad that an animal trusted me, unquestioning on every decision, right through the very, very, very end.

It’s sad to look at her favorite spots in the house, knowing they have reverted to inorganic function. The big Scrabble box in the closet, where she used to isolate herself for sleep fests under the hanging suits. The overhead cabinet in the kitchen, where she would jump if there was the slightest bit of free space next to the cereal boxes. It’s all cold storage now.

Jadey was a friend. The last words she heard were “It’s okay,” repeated over and over until she was still. Because her two owners were with her, and dire times are obliterated when loved ones are together. We held her face and body as she passed.

I wonder, where is this being now? Where’s the buddy who was with us through household moves, all the snowfalls and heatwaves? Where is that thing, that gentle soul?

I believe she’s in a greater place, and she knows everything now. She knows her parents. She knows the disease that took her. She sees us. She understands.

Her family will be hurting for a long time. It’s part of what makes a family work. I can tell you, the loss is a big blow to a unit that functioned, lived and loved for so long. We will keep going, because that was what she knew. Jadey was taken away, but not removed.

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Jadey, Spring 2004.

Jadey, Spring 2004.

Posted in Cats, non-fiction | 2 Comments

Memorial Day (part one)

MEMORIAL DAY (part one)

The Literate Show commemorates a special American holiday with the first of several posts over the long weekend. Memorial Day is not about selling cars or mattresses. It’s not about cookouts or boisterous advertisements, nor is it the “start of summer”. It’s not even the day to thank a veteran for their service. Not on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is our time to honor the United States servicemen and women who died in active service.

Those of us who live in the USA owe our freedom to countrymen who fought and were killed in foreign lands, skies and oceans. Who fought on our own lands, too. They died young, midlife and old.

They died not knowing you. They died, wanting to live. They did not want to fight a day longer than they had too, but for each, a war was their end.

The proverbial kiss in Times Square never seeped into their senses. They didn’t feel the thrill of rushing off a train to be forever united with their hometown sweetheart. They didn’t get to say the words “It’s over and I can go home.”

They didn’t have the opportunity to feel the pride of shaking the hand of a former enemy who had built his life back up again, in the free world.

Our men and women died for us. This weekend, we honor them.

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Memorial Day (part two)

MEMORIAL DAY (part two)

The Literate Show’s second Memorial Day installment covers the men of Torpedo Squadron Eight, who flew from the USS Hornet to attack the Japanese, poised to invade Midway Atoll, June 4th, 1942. While making their slow attack approach, the American squadron of 15 planes was obliterated within minutes, shot down by Zero fighters and anti-aircraft fire. Of the 30 men of Torpedo Squadron Eight, 29 perished, with a sole survivor, Ensign George Gay.

Torpedo Squadron Eight (known as VT-8) were led by Commander John Waldron, an intuitive and gutsy man of 42 years of age. Waldron, who was married with two children, defied Admiral Marc Mitscher’s orders and navigated on a hunch to find the elusive Japanese fleet. Alone at the battle scene, VT-8 had no fighter cover; the USS Hornet’s fighters had followed another route that led them away from the Japanese.

VT-8 was wiped out due to several reasons. The squadron had never flown in battle. Their torpedoes were unreliable and had to be launched “low and slow”. There were no protective US fighter planes present. The entire Japanese force was focused on destroying the slow-flying American planes—there were no other attackers. Compounding the problem was the fact that the aircraft the men were flying were obsolete and overdue for replacement.

The sole survivor, Ensign Gay, was shot down with his squadron and remained in the water for twenty-four hours. Gay lost an average of a pound of body weight per hour. He survived the war.

VT-8’s efforts did not result in any hits or damage, but the Japanese forces had become scattered, and focused on low-altitude attacks. For the Japanese, death was to come from high above. Within an hour after Waldron’s men had perished, several United States dive bomber groups attacked and sunk three aircraft carriers in rapid succession. The 29 fated men of VT-8 did not die in vain.

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Memorial Day (part three)

MEMORIAL DAY (part three)

What follows is the 3rd installment of The Literate Show’s Memorial Day weekend.

Memorial Day is specific to one day. Truth be told, many Americans think of our war dead every single day of the year.

We think about the nineteen-year-olds who were killed without having kissed a girl. They didn’t get the opportunity. They were going to do it one day. They imagined the dance hall or floral path where the thrill of first love would begin. It was going to be warm and peaceful and perfect.

Like how it was for me and you.

We think about the twenty-five-year-olds who died before they could develop a career. They had plans, never to unfold.

Someone had a tune in their head that died with them. A novel that went unwritten. A dream to see their kid talk, graduate, marry.

There’s an empty bedroom that mother has left untouched, long after the telegram arrived and the pastor left. The son or daughter’s potential is preserved in that room. We mourn because every bit of preparation for that child has now gone to waste. The grade school lessons, staying after class, passing down of family recipes, and the quiet wisdom shared between mother and daughter are all lost as casualties of war.

Most of us did not know the dead personally. So why do we, as strangers, anguish? We feel sadness because we’ve kissed dates and written novels and worked our careers. We wrote Stardust and sung it and we’ve fallen in love slow-dancing to it. We’ve enjoyed the long natural wavelength of life, which is measured from very young to very old.

Someone else had to scan the sky. They froze, burned, drowned, starved, shattered and bled out. Our hearts hurt for all the satisfaction denied them. Because we’ve indulged, and squandered, our good fortunes over and over.

Our Memorial Day dead were serving to defeat tyranny. We live in freedom only through their fight! Their lost opportunities weigh heavily on us. This is why we honor their memory.

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Memorial 3xxx

 

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The Muse

I was drawing, and you guided my hand. I never thought I’d know a person like you. And you love me.

I was writing, and didn’t have anyone to show it to. I thought of you and suddenly I was so small, and the words were large. You asked me to step inside this range of immense scale. As I looked at the writing in this new way, up close, the paragraphs had a thickness through the paper, a depth that traded microns for miles. I held out my hands as far as they could reach and new words tumbled towards me, ideas to last a lifetime.

Thanks, of course, to you.

You showed me one kind of spirit. This spirit boils away all that we accumulate, all we burden our love with.

You told me to take the hooks out of love. Take the hinges off, scrape the paint, peel off the placards. Love isn’t that kind of door.

My finger traces your eyebrow and I’ve drawn a mountain range. I hear your voice and my protagonist strikes off in an exciting direction. You look at the sun and my camera’s viewfinder is shaded from glare.

There is something that makes a man and a woman exceed flesh and blood. I am forever happy that you are my Muse.

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ABOUT: Ara Hagopian has published two softcover books: http://www.vickyleethebook.com/ and http://www.FieryWindsTheBook.com

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I Fought The Bully

FICTION. 400 words. I fought the bully and it’s still going on. I’ve walked with him, I was in his group, it was so easy to get along. All I had to do was serve his whim, stick to his will, and his golden shield was mine. The bully would offer protection from being outside the group, from being cold, hungry, and lonely. And it was like a drug. Everyone understood we would never get far, never be a star, but we wouldn’t find harm either. I relieve you, he was fond of saying. He brought us relief so long as we played, so long as we stayed.

And my crowd went right along.

My crowd feared being alone. My crowd feared the cold, and the lack of comfort. My crowd, never to separate. My crowd, never to be one, never to be a fraction, never to venture as a wholly uneven number.

I’m not fragile! Throw me down, again and again. Can’t you see?  I’m not cracking. The bully was on me; I didn’t break but I broke free, and now he knows. The bully knows I’m no longer for the agenda.

I’m not going along anymore.

His limits are not my limits. His grasp is tiny but his reach is far, his tune is sweet but the bandwidth is narrow, he points and makes a motion but we the people are the muscle that gets his work done. One man can’t stop the crowd, but damn it, one man can stop himself.

The crowd. Look at you! We are all going along, moving with the bully, feeding him and swerving in his direction like shards of little fish. I heard someone whisper “I’m scared as hell!” But one of us is no longer scared.

I said no! and the muscle still moves. I stop and won’t play, and others make up for the lost motion. I follow the bully’s eyes and he’s smiling away from me. He can win without me.

I’ve taken his cue. My sign is big, with a small message: STOP. Someone threw something at my sign, and it banged and clattered, the sign shook in my hands. Wet, sticky, plastic debris hit my head and fell around me. Two people got out of the way and three kicked the trash to the side. Four followers pushed me forward and five screamed bloody murder in my face. Six more held me steady.

I sensed their terror now. They were terrified of me. But still they stand. We are fighting the bully.

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ABOUT: Ara Hagopian has published two softcover books: http://www.vickyleethebook.com/ and http://www.FieryWindsTheBook.com

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I fought the bully.

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“Do You Think Less Of Me?”

NON-FICTION. When I was an art student at North Adams State College, a close friend used to tell me about her experiences of life in the city. She grew up in a harsh “street environment” and we’d talk at all hours about what she’d seen. One time she saw a horrific car wreck with what looked like fatal injuries, and she was astounded to never find any mention in the newspapers in the following days. So the basis of my City drawing was set.

The picture took me two months to complete. It’s fairly large, approximately 24″ x 20″, and illustrates my impressions of what my friend related to me: Drugs, pollution, and stories upon stories of mute and grand regeneration.

I came from a neighborhood that provided protections from the type and frequency of my friend’s city experiences. On another night when we were talking she was very upset; she wanted to know if it was okay that she didn’t report the accident she’d seen. She wanted to know if it was okay with me in that regard; or was I going to think less of her?

As an artist, and a 19-year-old, it was easy for me to be open about how I felt. I didn’t judge her on her lack of action, she hadn’t caused the accident and she’d been a 15 year old kid. I can’t remember for sure but my response was probably lacking what she needed. She had to live with what she’d seen and I was completely insulated.

“It wasn’t up to you to report,” I said. “It wasn’t your responsibility.” “You don’t understand what I’m asking you,” she replied.

One day she and I were walking back to campus on a main road. We’d had a great afternoon together. Behind us, a block away, a girl was also walking up the road. Something about her gait didn’t sit right with us. We both started towards her but my friend stopped me. “You wait up on that walkway across the street,” she said. Then she was off to the girl, calling, “Is everything all right?”

I waited, and to my surprise my friend waved me off, indicating I should go back to my dorm. The girl had just been raped.

When my friend rejoined me hours later, after a long session with campus police, her face was red and she was angry. “How could someone do something like this?” She wanted to know. I didn’t have that answer but I had another, and I waited 27 years to tell her.

“You didn’t turn your back on that girl,” I told her. “If you’d been worried about making the wrong choice at 15, you certainly made a big difference to someone two years later.”

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ABOUT: Ara Hagopian has published two softcover books: http://www.vickyleethebook.com/ and http://www.FieryWindsTheBook.com

City by Ara Hagopian. 1984. Pen, ink and colored pencil.

City by Ara Hagopian. 1984. Pen, ink and colored pencil.

Posted in Artwork, non-fiction, North Adams State College | Leave a comment