The Life Sausage

A while back I was trying to explain “quality of life” to the pones[1]— why sometimes it’s okay to die young, why sometimes a long life can be the most terrible of fates. I invented a simple graphic to help make the point, and was rather surprised at its utility. Imagine time along the x-axis: quality-of-life along the y, but as a range not a scalar value (i.e., the wider the range, the better the QoL). You can throw in a z-axis too, if you want two QoL metrics instead of one.I call it “The Life Sausage”, and it’s not height or width but total area that you want to maximize (or volume, if you’re going the 3-axis route).  You can live a hundred years if you never leave your home, never eat fatty foods, never risk love or sex for fear of failure and STDs — and your life sausage will be one long, emaciated pepperoni-stick of misery, hyperextended along one axis but barely registering on the others.  You can fuck everything that moves, snort every synthetic that makes it past the blood-brain barrier, dive with sharks and wrestle ‘gators and check out when your chute fails to open during the skydiving party on your sweet sixteenth. Your life sausage will be short but thick, like a hockey puck on-edge, and the sum total of the happiness contained therein will put to shame any number of miserable incontinent centenarians wasting away in the rest home. More typically the sausage will be a lumpy thing, a limbless balloon-animal lurching through time with fat parts and skinny parts and, more often than not, a sad tapering atrophy into loneliness and misery near the end. But in all these cases, the value of your life is summed up not by lifespan nor by happiness but by the product of these, the total space contained within the sausage skin.

Banana died in my arms yesterday: somewhere around 0630 counting from the time the pain stopped, maybe an hour later if you go by heartbeat. I do not know how long he lived in total; he came into my life as an adult with more miles on him that I’d care to imagine. But as far as I can tell, his Life Sausage looked something like this:

There must have been some joy there at the start, yes? He must have nursed at least, felt his tiny belly filling with milk, reveled on some dumb kitten level in the warmth and protection of a mom and litter-mates and an ambient bumble of purrs. Maybe he even had a Human home for a while; cats born feral are difficult at best to socialize to human company, and Banana’s fearlessness in later years suggests at least some favorable interactions with us can openers during his formative months.

He must’ve gone through a whole shitload of Blue Mondays after that, though.

The vet couldn’t tell me how old he was when he finally came into my care; all she knew for sure was that he was over ten years old, and most of those years had been mean ones. One of his ears was torn to shit, the cartilage permanently disfigured by his own furious scratching for a bit of relief from what the vet described as the worst case of ear mites she’d ever seen. The other was folded back and literally fused to itself, flesh to flesh: that was frostbite. Most of his teeth were rotten and abscessed and had to be pulled; for the rest of his life, he would spray like a lawn sprinkler when he did that whole cat-head-shaky thing. Fur was missing in patches; the skin underneath was crusty with scabs.

I wasn’t really looking to adopt another cat. Freshly single, about to relocate to a scummy little one-bedroom, and as financially-secure as any midlist author whose latest book had tanked like a Panzer, I didn’t know if I’d be able to take on a long-term dependent.  But fostering was different— a few weeks, a few months I could handle. So I renewed a lapsed acquaintance with Annex Cat Rescue — a local band of cat-lovers who capture ferals off the street, find homes for those who can be socialized, speuter and release those who can’t. (They are good folks, and have an ingenious arrangement by which you can forward them your air miles using a special card; you avoid all that junk mail and provide kibble for homeless cats. Win win.)

Banana had worn out his welcome at his current foster home.  Too used to a lifetime of hunger games, he was attacking anything he perceived as a threat to his kibble supply (which is to say, another cat who’d been living for years at the same address). So I took him back to my place, fell instantly in love, and wrote an adoption blurb which I maintain, even now, is the best piece of prose I ever wrote. It was an ode to a goddamned hero, and it worked: it wasn’t even 24 hours before the calls started coming in.

Twenty-four hours too long. In all truth, I was a goner before I ever wrote the blurb.

In the six years that followed we pumped Banana’s life sausage almost unto bursting. We moved from one furnished bedroom in an aching empty house over to an accursed apartment where I had to fight back successive waves of invading bed bugs. Other cats started dropping by along the rooftop; one of them even officially joined the team as First Officer Chip, after an initial few weeks spent hiding under my bed and hissing at my ankles. Banana developed an uncanny knack for time-keeping; if his bowl hadn’t been kibbled by 0800 he was standing on your chest by 0801, filling the room with the sound of his solicitation purr. If that didn’t work, his claws would hook you through the internasal septum and he’d lead you down the hall to the place where his bowl gaped empty and innocent of food, a profound insult to the very idea of feline decency. (I started calling him “The Tum That Tells Time” about then.)

Sometimes I would go traveling, leave Banana in the care of a professional cat-sitter; upon my return he would huffily ignore me for perhaps five minutes, then break down and gallop like a small water-buffalo up the hall to hurl himself onto my chest as if to say oh god I thought I’d never eat again that other can-opener only fed me twice a day oh please oh please never do that again.

He never really lost that sense of insecurity — I think the legacy of so many starving years taught him that every meal might be his last, that you can never trust the future, that you have to eat not only for now but for all those hungry nights yet to come. Once he stole a whole BBQ chicken off the bed, got it halfway down the hall before I caught up with him; I had actually been defending his honor at the time, insisting to a mistrusting partner-of-the-moment that He’s not even looking at that chicken, how dare you accuse him of —. When other cats started joining the team we had to feed Banana in a separate room, so he wouldn’t shoulder-check them out of the way and eat their food as well. Such precautions notwithstanding, it eventually began to dawn on me that he no longer resembled anything so skinny as the banana for which he had originally been named.  I contemplated changing his name to Potato, which would have been more descriptive of both color and shape (not to mention the nickname potential: Spudnik! Or in tandem with Chip the Fuzzbot, Potato-Chip!) — but although Banana had many fine qualities, a razor-sharp intellect was not among them.  I did not want to tax his furry little brain with the demands of learning a whole new name.

We were two grumpy mammals against the world. He saw me through a half-dozen short-term relationships (with partners who understandably found him far more charming than me), and helped lure a longer-term one into range (ditto). We appeared together in Nature. We moved again: from Accursed Apartment to Magic Bungalow, replete with a front porch from which to survey Raccoon Alley; a wild English garden full of triffids to prowl in the back; a small ravine just off to the side, just in case he was feeling adventurous— although he rarely was, as he was in his mid teens by now. Inside was adventurous enough: three other cats, two rabbits, a couple dozen tropical fish, and two adoring pones (the smaller of whom compulsively carried him around like a furry handbag; for reasons I will never fully understand, he did not seem to mind this in the least).

Banana and I developed a tandem fondness for half’n’half; mine in coffee, Banana’s straight up in a little ceramic cup. His yowled demands for refills drew in the other cats every time I hit the kitchen to top up my mug; within a week every feline in the place was hooked on the white stuff.  I was married now (Banana got a shout-out in Caitlin’s vows), with real in-laws and everything; Banana got his own seat at family dinners.  He would sit there looking back and forth, patiently following the dinnertime conversation between the bits of curried chicken or smoked salmon laid regularly before him by the can openers arrayed worshipfully to either side.

When I worked, he was curled up on my desk. He padded at my side when I went for the mail. He was an omnipresent obstacle that Caitlin and I had to maneuver around during sex, whether in the bedroom or the kitchen or bent over the treadmill; somehow he was always in the way, furry and unflappable.

I would have killed for that cat.

*

Sometime around 5:45a.m. this past Saturday, Caitlin returned to bed from an early-morning pee-break to find Banana curled up on the pillow beside me.  She edged in under the covers, careful not to disturb him. I scritched his ears; he purred, half-awake.

At 5:50 he shot off the bed like a rocket and bolted from the bedroom, crashing into walls and furniture. I smiled at first. Just another cat kerfuffle, I thought, one of those psycho midnight boxing matches always breaking out amongst the Gang of Fur: with Minion, maybe, although I hadn’t seen any of the others on the bed. “Stupid cat,” I mumbled to Caitlin, and rolled over as something crashed into the kitchen garbage pail.

Caitlin sat up. “I think — I think he’s having a seizure—”

Banana screamed, and didn’t stop.

I’ve never heard a sound like that: like he was caught in a leg-hold trap, like something was tearing him apart from the inside. He would howl, and stop when he ran out of air, gulp a breath and cry out again. By the time we got to the kitchen he was convulsing on his side, back arched, legs thrashing, strings of foamy saliva smeared across the floor. His tail was puffed big as a raccoon’s; his eyes were wide and sane and utterly terrified. And all I could think was He’s still in there. He knows.  That puffy tail— that’s not just some thrown clot, that’s not a stroke, that’s fight/flight, that’s a threat display, that’s what they do when something’s coming at them and they’re trying to scare it off.

He tried to run, you see. Something happened, inside; something broke, and he felt it but he had no way to parse it except that somehow there was a mortal threat and he wasn’t equipped to tell the difference between the things that kill you from the outside and those that kill you from within. All he knew was that his life was in danger, and he reacted the only way he knew how: he tried to run away.

Like a fucking idiot, I try holding him and making stupid comforting shhh noises. He screams and thrashes and pisses all over the floor. I leave him with Caitlin, boot up the laptop, Google desperately on 24-hour emergency veterinary Toronto: get a hit down on Kingston Ave, click (fucking idiots, what kind of emergency clinic doesn’t have phone number and address on the splash page where’s the fucking phone number?), punch in the number. We’ve got a brown tabby late-teens mild heart murmur mild hyperthyroidism, otherwise healthy, good appetite normal behavior until about five minutes ago and he’s convulsing, massive salivation, piloerection, can you hear the sounds he’s making, here I’ll hold the handset down—

No clue, they say. Could be anything. Bring him in. (Of course we’re bringing him in, Caitlin’s already on the other line and she’s on fucking hold waiting for the cab dispatcher to pick up…)

The other cats hide or circle at a safe distance, unnerved, eyes wide.  In the next room the rabbits thump out alarm signals like little bongos.  I grab my Powershot to film the convulsions: probably stupid, probably just make-work but you never know maybe there’s something in those leg movements that could have diagnostic value. The Powershot isn’t working: the digital display’s been on and off for months, just never got around to taking it in. I run into the bedroom, get Caitlin’s camera instead.  By now Banana’s running out of strength — still screaming, but the screams are weaker now, the convulsions edging down to frantic twitching kicks — but I take a few seconds of footage anyway, even though the light’s shit, even though you can barely see anything on playback. I take an mp3 of the sounds too, just in case. We grab towels and clothes, bundle up, slam the door behind us as the cab pulls up outside. Banana’s so much quieter, now; “He’s dead” I say a block south of Danforth, but he squirms and lifts his head and gulps as if drowning.

We get him to the clinic. They put him on oxygen. He’s not screaming any more, hasn’t been screaming for minutes now but he’s still kicking and for the first time I don’t know if there’s any light left in those eyes. Shit spills out of him. They wipe it up and hand me some paper to authorize an IV. They send us away to wait. I can still see them working around the corner.

When the vet comes out, he’s all equivocation and soft-peddle. Could be thrombosis. Could be anything, really. No way to know. He’s sedated now, see what happens. A few minutes into the spiel he tosses off something about no pupil response. He’s brain dead, I say. The vet nods sadly. Well you might have fucking said so up front; that has a certain central relevance, wouldn’t you say? He agrees.

Almost no chance of recovery, he admits when pressed.  What do you mean almost? I ask, because there’s hope in that word. What are the ballpark odds? He can’t give me any. How long have you been in the business? I ask. Twelve years. And in all that time, have you ever seen a patient recover under these conditions?

He has not.

We go back in. Banana’s lying on his side, IV dripping into one bandaged paw, breathing in short jerky gasps. His tongue lolls on the table like a little pink firehose; I never knew those things were so long. I tap at his nose right beside the eye; the lids blink a little, but the eyes themselves don’t move. Something has already settled on the cornea, some thread or bit of dandruff. The vet grabs a hindpaw, squeezes out a claw, starts clipping. He cuts off pieces one after another, nail up to quick and beyond. He’s cutting into tissue now; he must be cutting nerves. Banana doesn’t twitch; maybe that’s just because he’s sedated, right? But, you know. Brain dead. Twelve years experience. Zero recovery.

Banana’s already dead. We pay almost a thousand dollars, all told, to help his body catch up. Graveyard shift, remember: premium rates. The sun’s up by the time we walk home, carrying what’s left in a box sealed with white medical tape.

The pones are with their dad this morning. We ascertain, over the phone, that Mesopone wants to be present for the burial.  Micropone blows it off. As has always been my custom, I wrap the carcass in an old Jethro Tull t-shirt (the Living With the Past tour; I’ve been saving it for years). I think I read somewhere that it’s a good idea to let the deceased’s peers encounter the body, so I leave the opened box in the dining room, Banana shrouded within. Nutmeg and Minion could care less but Chip, who has known Banana almost as long as I have, immediately takes up position beside his dead buddy and sits there for an hour or more. I have no idea if there’s any significance to this.

I spend the time until Meso and Caitlin’s sister arrive choosing what proves to be the most godawful root-infested part of the garden to dig the grave, and then hacking through roots as thick as my wrist with the edge of a shovel. I get the hole deep enough to foil any attempts by the local dogs or raccoons to disinter the body (or at least, if they do get down that far, they’ll have earned their spoils). I go collect my glasses from across the yard where I hurled them in a fit of unexpected rage halfway through the excavation; we all line up in the cold. I lower Banana into the ground. Nobody has anything to say. We each drop a shovelful of soil into the hole. I retrieve the shovel and move the rest of the earth back into place. Mesopone pours a cup of half’n’half onto the dirt. We go inside.

I can’t stop thinking about that puffed-out tail, about Banana’s panicked terrified flight from the reaper. I can’t stop thinking that he knew what was happening, and it scared the shit out of him, and I couldn’t do fuck-all to make him feel even a little bit better. I spent six years making up for the ten that had gone before, making the life sausage of his retirement so fat that he’d forget all about the dried leathery string of jerky that preceded it. He went to sleep with us the night before, a furry pain in the ass somehow capable of monopolizing 70% of the bed with 10% of the mass; just minutes before everything turned to shit, he was purring under my hand.  But in the end, he didn’t die basking in the reflection of his golden years. He died in the present, in the thirty-minutes-to-an-endless-goddamned-hour when he felt something killing him from the inside, something that somehow effortlessly kept up no matter how fast he tried to run. I keep telling myself that those last minutes don’t obliterate the previous six years. I will never be entirely convinced.

He’s still here, of course, even though he isn’t. I go into my office and he’s asleep on the desk. I go into the kitchen and he’s figure-eighting around my ankles. I reach down to scritch him here on the bed and it’s only when the ears feel wrong that I look down and realize it’s been Chip or Nutmeg or Minion all along.

The Gang of Fur goes on, leaderless for now. Minion continues to jump onto the bedside windowsill, pull the window open and jump down again without even going outside; she’s always been less interested in going walkabout than in freezing me to death in my bathrobe. Chip continues to swat at me from atop the fridge, trying for a repeat of that long-past glory day when he scooped the contact lens right off my eyeball with a single claw. Nutmeg is still a furry slut.  None of them are Banana, of course; just as Banana was never Zombie, or Cygnus, or Strange Cat. They’re just who they are, and someday they’ll all be dead. Chip’s probably next to go. Positive for both Fe-leuk and FIV, he was supposed to be dead last summer, not running around robust and full of beans the way he is.  And as I am typing these very words — I shit you not — the pones have just started yelling about A Cat That Looks Just Like Banana! trotting out of our back yard along the fence. And they’re right: I just watched him cross the street.  Same walk. Same well-fed tum. Same dirt-common brown tabby markings.

Different ears, of course. No one will ever again have Banana’s ears.

The pones want to leave a bowl of kibble out on the porch tonight.  I have no idea what that means.

Note the Unicorn/Squid motif of the substrate.

One of these organisms couldn’t care less that I won the Hugo.

Minion and Miniee

Guest of Honor

The Next Generation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] aka my stepdaughters

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Sunday February 26 2012at 03:02 pm , filed under eulogy . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

63 Responses to “The Life Sausage”

  1. Reading this is probably the closest anyone can come to feel what you feel.

  2. That’s a very moving account, Peter. I’m sorry Banana’s end was so grim, for you and for him, having been there myself more than once. But those six years do matter.

  3. I remember when my cat Mickey died. My sister and I spent the night with him until he was gone. The next day we buried him in the garden, between two pine trees. He always loved stalking birds in that garden. He’d munch on my hair when I slept and brought us the heads of his prey on our doorstep.

    And I still miss him.

  4. I’ve been trying to think of what to say, but I will mostly agree with Vasil, above. As I read the first half, I smiled and felt as thought I knew Banana as one of the cats in my life, but moving on to the second half, I felt a pressure in my chest and had to wipe an eye or two. I’m sure I’ll be thinking of Banana for quite some time: I never met him in person obviously, but his frequent appearances on the blog created an impression, and I can honestly say that I will miss him in that respect.

    I can only hope that some day I have the chance to make another cat’s life sausage as plump as Banana’s surely became.

  5. I’ve been to a number of human funerals in my time, none of which had elegies as lovingly heartbreaking as this.

    RIP Banana.

  6. Again…so, so very sorry…

    This is a great piece. I’m going to share it with the same buddy I once gave Blindsight to as a b’day gift. His quote’s on your splash page, even though I STILL can’t get him to read SF, generally. One of his cats decided, at about 20 yrs of age, that she needed access to him AT ALL TIMES. He would hold her up on his chest when he took a bath. I think he needs to see this.

    When our cat Tam(many Hall) was found so full of kidney stones that he was already damaged beyond hope of surgery, the vet seemed really weirded out that our child, then four, wanted to say goodbye. It helped, though.

    I know you gave Banana a great life. I’m sad that it is now over.

  7. There aren’t enough words to really say. It’s hard enough trying to imagine what he felt, and harder trying to come to terms that it’s over and nothing more can be done.
    I’m so sorry, I just wish there was something I could do or say…

  8. I cried when I read this.

    I’ve lived through the death of three cats. One went blind and then died a day later; another became paralyzed in her rear legs and we had to put her down, and the third from a combination of diabetes and cancer. They are all gone now, and, unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to go though it again.

    So now I’m catless.

  9. Peter, if you ever wonder why your fans are so dedicated to you, it’s because of posts like this.

    It’s not just the heartbreaking account of Banana’s last hours, it’s that your voice is so clear and honest throughout. Vasil was right in saying that this is the closest anyone can come to feel what you feel. The man that is Peter Watts is so visible, so defined through this bit of text. I almost feel like I could pick up the phone and start talking with you like we’ve known eachother for years.

    You gave that cat a hell of a life. You rescued him from what was likely a world of shit and never expected him to be anything but who he was. You can be sure that the last six years with you at his side was more than enough to make up for a rough transition off this coil.

    Again, condolences.

  10. By the way, that pic of Chip next to the box is beautiful and sad.

  11. Peter,

    Sorry to hear about this. I know that us males hate to show emotion but it
    is amazing how a cat can turn us into blubbering idiots.

    I have always had arguments about whether cats or dogs are better pets. I have always argued that cats are because their affection towards you is dependent on how we treat them, whereas a dog will keep coming back even if the human abuses it. But maybe this says more about the character of the pet owner than it does about the pet.

    You discription of burying Banana brought a smle to my face. I had a similar experience six years ago when I had to rush the family cat to the emergency vet because he couldn’t move his back legs. In short, I told the vet to put him down because I coulxn’t see this cat enjoying the last few remaining days of his life not being able to move around.

    Did you know that there is a bylaw in Ottawa against burying a pet in your back yard? First time I had to steal a dead cat from the vet’office.

    But my fun had just begun. Did you know that east Ottawa is built on lida clay? There I was at eleven at night swinging a pick in my backyard by lantern, with a cloth wrapped bundle on the ground beside me. Did I mention that my wife was out of town for the weekend, and hadn’t told the neighbours?

    OK, that is a story for another day. But to answer your question about whether or not you did good by Banana? The answer is obvious; on his last evening he was making a pain of himself in your bed. If a cat doesn’t feel happy and comfortable around you, they are not shy about letting you know.

  12. That was wonderful, Peter. Our animals are all wonderful…I currently have two rats, and enjoy their company immensely. Such huge personalities for such little creatures. One of the hardest parts about them is that they have so little time…mine are nearly two years old now, and reaching the point where things could happen at any time.

    But cats…cats are my animal. My last cat, Thomas, was a medical research rescue that saw me through some of the darkest hours of my life. For all of their supposed aloofness, cats to me are some of the purest packets of caring and love (and, well…aloofness and occasional disdain *grin* ) that exist in this world. They are for me the ultimate pet. I grieve with you, and for you. However, I am glad that you were able to give Banana the home that he deserved. My condolences.

    (Aside: minor edit needed for “best piece of prose” link: add the /crawl/ directory w/in the URL)

  13. Broken link above. Should be:

    http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=36

  14. Fuck that. RIP Banana.

    :(

  15. This was hard to read.
    It was helped by one of my own fuzzy butts sitting on my chest purring, still so hard. I lost one of mine in October to kidney failure after 2 years of pushing fluids into him. His end was sudden, but not as pain filled as Banana’s. I do know how hard this was for you.
    You did your best, that was not erased by the end, You gave him six good years. Keep those in your mind. The other fuzzy butts will help too.
    I am touched.
    Goodbye Banana.

  16. Peter, I am weeping. Banana is one special cat. Nothing will come close to comforting you, but it might be nice to think that maybe you did not choose Banana, but he actually chose you. He must have known from the beginning that with you he has found a devoted, kind, gentle, can-opener-for-life, a source of body warmth and half-and-half, a warder of mites, defender of his food bowl, and his ticket to the magic bungalow. See. Isn’t it possible you underestimated his intellect?

    He’s one lovable cat. I’m happy I got a chance to meet him.

  17. I’m so sorry about Banana, Peter. How your tough, figure-eighting, chop-eared friend went out. That sucks. If you’re looking for something decidedly non-spiritual, as I often do, for comfort, check out the children’s book “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney.” It’s a pretty powerful little story about a kid dealing with his cat’s death. I don’t know if there’s ever much comfort, really, as your brain adjusts to the absence of someone you loved, but that kid’s book has helped me a couple of times.

    Your description of Banana’s burial was quite moving. I could see it and feel it.

    My sincere condolences.

  18. That was beautifully written Peter. I have tears in my eyes right now. It sounds like Banana was a great cat.

  19. Damn it, that made me cry…because it reminded me of my wonderful canine buddies: Mogwai, Saber, Pixie, Spunky and Rusty. And I am *so* glad I took up cat fostering last summer. Theta and Fergie say hello.

  20. Thanks for the update and the memorializing. It’s nice to have images and incidents to associate with the name. Two of our three cats have been tabbies like Banana – personalities in fur and claws. I hope that you always remember the fat part of the sausage.

    Much condolences…

  21. I went a bit misty-eyed reading this. Wonderfully written.

  22. Not only did you make his world suck just a little less, you made it not suck. You gave him paradise and took away the hurt. You gave him peace. And then you were there beside him as he ran in terror of the reaper inside him. What better can opener could a cat wish for.

    I dread the day the my Putty leaves my right side on the couch.

  23. Poor kitty. But you gave him a rather happy life and an awesome eulogy. That should count, too.

  24. I remember Butterball.

    I was just a little kid, when found him and his family on a semi-abandoned farm that my aunt and uncle had some claim on. I still don’t remember what we were actually DOING there that day, nor whether the other cats there ever found homes. I ask my parents and they tell me all about it, but it’s one of those things that just can’t seem to stick in my head no matter how many times I’m reminded. But it’s not important, since that’s where I found Butterball.

    He came from a family of farm cats. It was a sizable family, but one yellow tabby just walked right up to us, while the others stayed away. I think most of his brethren had matured to the point where they no longer affiliated with creatures they hadn’t grown up with, but this one kitten was still forming those crucial neurons, still curious, still barging right up to the strange beings and getting cooed over. My cousin wanted to take an older one, whom she named “Silver,” but Silver was older, and a bit too antisocial to be assimilated. Only the yellow kitten was eager to be adopted, and so after giving him the particularly unimaginative name “Butterball” (after a yellow kitten from, IIRC, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books), I took him home.

    It took some getting used to, being unfamiliar with human cultures (his first night there, he used my dad’s bike helmet as a litter box… fortunately dad was already hoping for an excuse to get a new one), but he was the most saintly cat imaginable. He followed us everywhere, even one time following me a dozen blocks to my elementary school, where he got petted during recess. And being a farm cat, he had the ability to eat and digest pretty much any food imaginable… I even did my eighth-grade science project trying to figure out why he loved green olives to the point where he would rub his face on the plate after eating them. He was also an escape artist even by feline standards, able to effortlessly wriggle out of ANY collar or leash devised by mankind (we literally were unable to find any harness that could contain him), and squeeze his body through openings that looked barely traversable for mice, let alone cats. We still have no idea how he did those escapes.

    Then, one Summer, while mom and I were taking an RV trip halfway across the country (I was either in middle school or high school), we got a call from dad. Butterball had been missing for days, and when dad started canvassing the neighborhood, he got a call from a neighbor who said that she had seen a cat matching that description, laying dead in her yard. She’d called someone or other with the city, to collect the body.

    And then things got weird.

    We called the officials wherever it was as well, asking to see the body… but the body had vanished. Apparently it had gotten lost. They had no idea where.

    Butterball came from nowhere, and he returned there. He vanished into the mysterious void from whence he had arrived.


  25. I can’t stop thinking that he knew what was happening, and it scared the shit out of him, and I couldn’t do fuck-all to make him feel even a little bit better

    He probably was just in pain. Any creature freaks out if that is the case.
    Any organism probably freaks out if it is in pain or other intense, unfamiliar and not pleasant condition.

    Looks like it was a strong seizure. Or not?
    http://www.felipedia.org/~felipedi/wiki/index.php?title=Seizures


    These episodes often are preceded by a short, piteous cry, intermittent episodes of aggression or fright, hissing, growling, raising of a single limb (repetitive movements), tail piloerection, and transient periods of uncoordinated, frantic running or bizarre aimless movements. Owners describe their cats as acting like they are ‘possessed’, or in a trance as if they were hallucinating.

    Plenty of causes listed, from epilepsy to …

    Beautiful eulogy though. Most people are not lucky to get something like that…

  26. Correction: if it was seizure.. it was just that. No need for pain for anything to behave like that.

  27. Banana had a good life with you, Peter. Cats know. Banana knew. We all know. Thank you for caring for him to the end.

  28. You brought tears to my eyes Peter. A moving celebration of a life, a nasty way to go from that loving environment, ending with a beautiful goodbye.

  29. Sitting here with my fur-ball in my lap and tears in my eyes!
    Not being so good with words I’ll just settle with giving you my most sincere condolences.

  30. Damn.

    That good six years still counts for something.

  31. The six years matter. They truly do. Be well, Peter.

  32. As always, you move me with your words. I am bereft of boon to offer in return.

  33. Too cute! He was a lucky Banana.

  34. Banana was the reason I donated on your site those years ago. I took one look at him and thought, “If this helps out that fine, handsome cat then his human must be all right.” And I’m glad I did.

    I lost our long-time top cat Dinah last fall to FIP. Her last hours were similar. She died in her favourite cat bed with my daughter patting her.

    So damn sorry that our feline friends don’t live forever. If anyone is deserving of immortality, it’s them.

    We’re living through this with you, Peter. Next time we hang out we will raise some pints in Banana’s honour.

  35. […] engagement, sometimes we can forget the basics and fail to see the wood for the trees. This sad post by brilliant author Peter Watts about the death of his cat strikes that very note on website […]

  36. I’m in tears.

    I know that’s no comfort, but here’s one thought that might be: maybe Banana *did* know what was coming. Maybe he knew something was wrong. Maybe he smelled the burnt toast. And if he did, when he did, he came to you. That last moment of his identity and agency was spent at your side. And in that moment he saw in you the same things he saw when he chose you. Because for as much as you decided to keep him, he also decided to stay with you. He was a survivor, and could have moved on, but he didn’t. He remained exactly where he wanted to be, with you, right up until the end. And as this eulogy proves, he chose wisely.

  37. “I can’t stop thinking that he knew what was happening, and it scared the shit out of him, and I couldn’t do fuck-all to make him feel even a little bit better…”

    Lanius may have it right, but I’ll offer you my experience. I’ve seen it at my work, when not in school, and you’re right: he was there, he knew. Sometimes during a seizure, they are present because for whatever reason the Self part of the brain isn’t affected. Most times they are terrified, we assume because they can’t understand why/how they lost control, or yes maybe that they know the end is near. Often it is not directly painful, just scary. More than often, there is nothing to do but support the body and wait and hope the nervous system can right itself somehow.

    What I can tell you is that you *did do fuck-all* and you did make him feel better. I’ve seen the physiologic changes in the EKG and the monitors that animals give in response to their humans. If they are present, and you can see Them in there, they can see you and they are responding, even if it is minimally. There’s probably not a damned thing you could have done to STOP the end, but I’m quite certain you *did something* positive for Banana at his end.

    On Quality of Life I’ve seen and assisted them go, and I’d really rather see them go miserable, terrified, and *quickly* than watch them suffer hours, days, weeks for no other reason than their human can’t come up with some gumption to let go of hope and grasp reality.

    I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, or could figure out, but maybe hearing it from someone in the field helps. Fictitious Higher Power help me, my Halo-puppy has to live forever; there’s no way around it.

  38. “he wasn’t equipped to tell the difference between the things that kill you from the outside and the those that kill you from within”
    Even as a human, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. I’ll carry this sentence around with me for a very long time.

    I was also caused to lachrymate by your moving eulogy, and second what Madeline said. At least in his moments of fear, you were there. Like the Pigeon Who Lived — for a while.

    I’ve never been owned by a cat, not really. This post reminds again why I want to have a cat in my life some day, even considering the grief.

    I wish I’d met Banana. It sounds like you two were quite a match.
    Your beautifully written eulogy sums up oddly well why other grumpy mammals, perhaps more dysfunctional ones, see a kindred spirit.

  39. This is another sad reminder that there’s a strong correlation between deep personal anguish and really good writing. Peter, I’ve been through that exact same moment of furry friend suddenly convulsed with something as nameless to the humans as it is to the suffering cat, so many of us have been through that. The late night visit to whatever vet clinic can be found, the final decision that, so to speak, when the life-sausage has almost no time left and the enjoyment axis has been squeezed into negative space, all you can do is trim off the end and make it quick and painless as possible. I was 12 or so the first time I had to make that decision, and while I didn’t have that concept of the life-sausage for clarity, I said to myself “she had the best life we could give her” and it was pretty honest. It’s pretty clear that you gave Banana the best you could for the time he was with you, and as your story tells, life goes on and you seem to be well-surrounded by the love of several species. May that love seep in to slowly fill the empty space in your heart.

  40. I cried. That was a beautifully written piece.

    My sincere condolences for your loss. Banana sounds like he was an amazing cat.

  41. I think I’m going to go make sure the cats I live with have a little bit of a wider life sausage than they already do.

  42. So sorry for your loss. Got a bit misty-eyed, m’self.

  43. It’s my cat allergies making my eyes water.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  44. It’s all too familiar. My beloved Eurekatous’s death three months ago unfolded exactly like that. We love them and they love us, and then we lose them or they lose us. But we keep on loving.

  45. Sorry for your loss, my M03 (Yes, thats how I named him, M-Zero-3) died in pain as well.
    But I believe he lived a very thick “sausage” life, enjoying the servitude of my family members to the fullest (M03 died almost exactly a year after he was diagnosed with FIV)

    I am glad that I have had the pleasure of being aquainted with Banana last summer.

    Heres to little furry creatures that enslaves us can-openers…

  46. (Sorry about the idiotic choice in screen name above. This one is what I intended, as in “doesn’t matter who I am” not “doesn’t matter what happened.” But then there’s something awfully recursive about having to apologize under these circumstances…and I’m clearly no stranger to idiocy.)

    As you might imagine, “Arrgh!” and “god-fucking-dammit” are about all I can come up with at the moment apart from taking frustration out on people who really, really deserve it.

    When I am capable of being more articulate…

  47. So sorry, my dear friend. Hugs from down south.

  48. Peter, you sit there questioning your worth in Banana’s life. I could sit here and itemize your quirks, your insecurities, your weaknesses, but I would be no more accurate than you would be in trying to describe sentience.

    But you take compassion in a strange, sad little cat, or a half decapitated bird. You write fiction that the rest of us think we can, but know we can’t. In short, your appeal is that you are flawed, know it, don’t try to hide it, and, maybe in a strange way, revel in it.

    How is that for phylosophy 101?

  49. This was really beautiful, Peter. My condolences for your loss.

  50. Beautiful words Peter, thank you.

    The only other time mementos like this one have reached me has been this one:
    http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=10633

    Cheers,

  51. And I cannot forget this one either:

    http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2010/01/and-in-end.html

    Good company indeed.

  52. My condolences at your loss.
    I remember bringing my cat to the vet when his kidneys were failing.The moment he went from 15 pounds of furry love to (literal) dead weight was the saddest I have experienced.
    My friend and I spent precious time yesterday discussing the Life Sausage. Thank you for this and all your writing.

  53. i am not a cat person, but that does not mean that the sadly story of the painfull death of Banana dit not make me sad for him.
    anyway i read it all and i cant imagine how much you when trough while watching poor old Banana sufering like that and that you could not do something about it, so terrible.

    after reading the sad story of his death, now i know that any living being(humans and animals)on this planet die very slowly and painfull for such zeisures attacks. i believe your vamps must suffer also a lot of pain when they have these sort of attacks, uh?

    anyway my condolences to you and your wife Caitlin and also to the rest of your cats and pets!

    i never had a cat because i am a dog(well more a Dashund)person, still none of my dogs had die yet in that terrible way.
    well…a male dashund we adopted as an adult, did died from a rare virus or bacteria that no vet in my stupid tirth world country new about and that virus left my dog paralyze trou his whole body for several weeks and his poop was very liquit like a sunday ice melted. when we took him to the vet to put down, i saw in his eyes while being put to sleep that he did not want to die and still have desire to live, this is the only dog i had that showed desire to live while being put down so that is why his strange desease and his death affected even more my catatonic depression problem and got it worst for me.

    his name was Kibo and his strange sad desease and unwanted death make me started to HATE any religion and LOST faith even more and also make me left and HATE the phatologic anime comunity and its &&%# otakus fan boys and girls witch is use to belong before this tragic event, and since then….i became a scifi fan ONLY and that is how i discovered your novels.

    once again, my condolences for your dear Banana cat.

  54. Crap I don’t even know you and you just made me cry all over my keyboard.

    There aren’t any words of magical wisdom that can make us feel better about the shitty things we have to deal with in life like losing someone close and having to deal with not only the event but the aftermath. What I can say though is that it seems that Banana had it as good as he could have for the last six years. I’m far from religious and I don’t know if there is the next life like people tell themselves there is on Sundays but I do think those we love that go before us, wait and we all come together again somehow. Maybe Banana will take you in, in the next life and repay the love. Those last thirty minutes were as rough as can be imagined but I think he takes all the great days you provided, with him, in spite of it. RIP Banana.

  55. Three years ago I lost not one but two cats on the same day due to my own selfishness and deliberate ignorance. I wish I had your wit and eloquence to describe that experience and the sorrow – and shame – I still feel to this day. They deserved a eulogy like this, and they sure did not deserve the fate I condemned them to with my purely selfish act.

  56. seriously beautiful and thoughtful post.

  57. Peter, I knew nothing of you or Bananas until I came here on a link from another blog this morning, but I am sobbing. I felt like I was there with you, crying for Bananas and what he was going through, and for you, and then for me and my kitty soulmate, Quiver, who I lost two years ago.

    I am still sobbing, even as I write this, because you told our story, too, in just four sentences. I am feeling your pain, and mine.

    “Like a fucking idiot, I try holding him and making stupid comforting shhh noises.”

    “I can’t stop thinking that he knew what was happening, and it scared the shit out of him, and I couldn’t do fuck-all to make him feel even a little bit better.”

    “I keep telling myself that those last minutes don’t obliterate the six previous years. I will never be entirely convinced.”

    That is our story, too. Those are the things that haunted me, terribly at first, about the horror of his final minutes. Sometimes I would howl with pain as I sobbed, reliving the horror of it all.

    But Quiver adored me as much as I adored him, and I came to believe that he would have forgiven me anything. So I tried to forgive myself, as I believe Quiver already had, and things have gotten better over time. I still miss Quiver, but it’s not the searing pain it once was.

    The words that helped me begin to heal:

    There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They are messengers of overwhelming grief and of unspeakable love.

    – Washington Irving

  58. I think I found what I would rather say. Sometimes just recounting trauma is as traumatic as the original event. Sometimes more so. Take your time.

    http://www.uic.edu/classes/psych/psych270/PTSD.htm

  59. Do not go gentle.

  60. Goodby Banana.

  61. Dear Banana, I am glad that you and Peter found each other. It sounds like each needed the other. You helped make Peter’s life sausage as blobular as he made yours. Great work…you really were a hero.

    Dear Peter, no words can ever comfort…

  62. I’m really sorry for you. I lost my first cat when he was less than two years old – I woke up one day and he was already dying. I was pretty devastated for the next few months, so I can empathise. At least Banana got to spend six years with a well behaved can opener.

    He couldn’t find a better home and a more loving human being.

  63. My girl seized after she had the stroke that would kill her — lead us to put her down, rather, less than an hour later — and . . . it was not as bad as what you describe, nowhere near, but she cried, gods help me, she cried, and it was the worst thing I had ever heard and I didn’t know if she . . . I still don’t know how it was for her, but we were quick about it, the vet was fast to tell us that there was nothing we could do, which I knew, but needed, I guess, to hear. I didn’t ask for time alone with her, I just said, let me in there with her and do it now, now, now.

    So I read this crying because I know at most maybe one tenth of how bad you felt for the pain and fear and confusion that you’re afraid he felt, and even the one tenth I know is more than enough to tear me apart when I lay there in the dark, now empty of her, and wonder not “Did I do the right thing?” but “Was I fast enough?”

    I’d say “It gets better, easier,” because it does, but that is no comfort whatsoever, so I will only say, you did what you could, as fast as you could, and let that be your comfort, and hold on to that as tightly as you can.

    Banana sounds like an excellent cat, a Cat of Quality, and I am sorry for your family’s loss. Shallow words for something so deeply felt.