September 19 is the anniversary of the day Kublai left this plane of existence. As the light begins to change each September and even temperatures begin to soften, I think of Kublai, not necessarily about those days, I just think about him. I’d wanted to share them in August because they were taken in August 1996, but the weeks have flown past me like a blur lately so I decided I’d share them on this anniversary instead.
Above, he may look like he’s weak and hanging his head down, but he’s actually enjoying the massage I’m giving his shoulders. The white things on his legs are shaved areas from medical treatment. We’re sitting on the steps on the side of my deck, the best place I could think of with good lighting where I could sit with him on my lap.
I asked a friend to take the photos and it was a month or so before he died. I wish I’d asked her to take photos months before but the strange illness that took him down over the course of a year always seemed curable, and not just to me. He was only 15, and had always seemed invincible. He was my heart cat, the kitten who rescued me in college, the cat who recognized my bad days and brought me out of them, who hugged me when I needed a hug, who was universally loved by many. But though he was still vitally alive, and months of tests of all sorts available in the mid 90s turned up nothing definitive, nothing stopped his wasting away.
I love the way he’s looking at me in the photo below, despite all the evidence of his illness. I knew that expression. We were in this together until the end, whenever and however that happened.
He weighed about six pounds in these photos. He had weighed 12 at his mature weight. Obviously with two shaved front legs he’d recently had some tests, IV fluids, I remember there was antibiotic therapy, prednisolone, other medications administered in hospital. He wasn’t staying hydrated, he wasn’t getting nourishment from his food, even his fur was fading from the rich black it had always been to a dull mahogany. He wasn’t visibly suffering and was still pretty active, had in fact been able to cut his way through the basement screen door with one of his claws, the Houdini cat he always was, and I was shocked when I looked out to see him in the driveway. My veterinarian would soften things but never minced words. I knew it was “just a matter of time”.
This photo may look familiar, but maybe not as a photo.
My profile image on Facebook, LinkedIn and a few other places, is a charcoal a sketch on a blue background of me holding Kublai, called, not surprisingly, “Self-portrait with Kublai”. I sketched it when I participated in an art exhibit with the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators in 2004 and needed an image of myself to include in the catalog; most of us either had or decided to do self-portraits. I remembered these photos and had always wanted to create some image of the two of us from them.
I was 35 years old and it seems like ages ago, so many cats ago, so many illnesses and lessons ago.
My veterinarian was pretty sure it was toxoplasmosis, partly because so much else had been ruled out, though it didn’t respond to clindamycin; that’s one of the reasons toxoplasmosis has been on my radar again since Basil was diagnosed. I don’t want any other cat to go through what Kublai did.
That’s also why I’m thinking so much of Kublai this year and was determined to find this roll of photos this year. It turned out they weren’t in one of the typical photo envelopes, but the developing shop had put them into a small album, which I had stored in a different box. I’m glad to see them again, though they bring up many memories and the feelings of fear and failure that I also associate with losing him. It’s not a bad thing to revisit now and then, and especially after so much time and so many other losses. Kublai prepared me for what was to come, and especially now looking back, I am grateful for that.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave e’re long.
~from Shakespeare’s 73rd sonnet
Read the whole sonnet, and more about Kublai in To Love That Well Which Thou Must Leave ‘Ere Long.
Read more articles about pet loss.
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This is the guy who started it all–and nearly the last one to have his portrait done! He fostered every stray kitten and cat I ever brought into my home, and shepherded me through the ups and downs of the fifteen years he was with me. Read more and purchase.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters Tuesday: Rescue Stories Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork Thursday: New Merchandise Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!