In memory and honor of one very special cat.. how QUACK Edward J. Nichols, DVM, Crestway Animal Clinic, San Antonio, Texas, treated Suki. Read Suki's Story.
For details on the lawsuit that this QUACK Ed Nichols, Crestway Animal Clinic, filed on me in an attempt to silence me from telling what happened to Suki at Crestway Animal Clinic, see the timeline
For the Texas Board investigation of Ed Nichols, Crestway Animal Clinic, see the allegations here
Celebrating the life of an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime cat...and aren't they all?
The Eighth Kitten
It was the summer of 1979, and my friend Carol called to tell me that her beautiful purebred Siamese Sheena had had a breeding accident. Not knowing much about cats and even less about breeding them, I asked what that meant. She explained that Sheena was scheduled to be bred with another purebred suitable for producing the very best kittens.
Sheena had other plans. Apparently, she got out one night and enjoyed a rather seedy rendezvous with an equally seedy cat down the street, whom Carol heard died not long after. We used to say that Suki's mom was too much for him, but whatever shortcomings he may have had, he ended up contributing some very special genes to what their brief encounter produced. Sheena was now pregnant, and the litter was due sometime in August. Did I want a kitten?
I answered Sure! What did I know. I lived alone at the time and thought it would be pretty neat to have a kitten, having left behind the family cat when I moved out at 19. The company would be nice, and besides, it would help out a friend, right?
Carol called me on August 5 to tell me that Sheena had given birth that morning to eight beautiful kittens, and they would be ready for delivery in October. They would be "imprinted," she said -- lovingly stroked by her family from day one to ensure that they would be perfect companions without fear or neuroses. I was excited, but so busy with work and dancing that I didn't give it another thought.
Except for the issue of a name. I had named my first and only cat -- the one back home -- after Anne Frank's cat Mouchie. I didn't have strong feelings about any other cats from literature or history. I was stumped. I went to the newsletter editor at the ad agency where I worked and proposed the idea of a cat-naming contest. I couldn't understand why they weren't as excited as I was. I offered a prize. They became more excited.
The entries poured in. Azure, Mousie Tung, Sky, and more. With the agency being filled with creative types, there were all kinds of plays on words, some of which I can't repeat here. I wasn't struck by any of them.
Talking with my cousin one night (mind you, a guy who never had a pet in his life), he said, "What about Suki?" My heart thumped. That was it. That was her name. Looking back on almost 20 years of such serendipitous events, I now believe that Suki herself probably picked her own name and found a way to tell me. It was not the last time she used a person close to me to deliver a message.
Three months later, Carol was at the door with a cardboard box full of kittens, saying that she wanted me to have the pick of the litter. We went into my bedroom where she unceremoniously dumped the contents of the box. Seven scrambling furballs proceeded to pile on each other, mewling and crying and flailing about, tumbling to the hardwood floor and climbing back up again, looking like very bad acrobats at their first rehearsal.
Except for one. The eighth kitten marched straight to the adjacent sun porch, not looking at me, not looking back at her siblings, not really caring who was around or what anybody thought. She knew where she wanted to be and so she went; it was the first manifestation of a lifetime philosophy and a moment I will never forget. As I watched her, fascinated at how strong and sure she was, I turned to Carol, laughing, "I guess that one's mine!"
Suki was home.
Suki had a thing for the sun. In Texas, that is no trivial thing. From May to well into September, the sun can be a formidable force to be guarded against and respected, usually with hats, sensible clothing, and lots of sunscreen. But Suki had no limits to the amount of sun she could tolerate. Unlike the rest of us mere mortals drained from overexposure, Suki seemed to absorb the sun and transform it into her life force. If there was ever a solar-powered cat, it was Suki.
Watching Suki during the course of a day was like living with a human--rather, a feline--sundial. Her morning would start in the east, washing her face after breakfast in the gentle glow of my office or bedroom, checking out the early birds on the balcony from her window, and stretching out against the glass for her pre-lunch nap. From eleven to one, she'd check on my progress at my desk, balancing herself on my forearms as I typed, sleeping in my (her) inbox, or organizing (chewing) my interview and research notes. By now, the sun was overhead and there was no way to access it directly. No matter. Suki was patient.
After lunch, she would head for the living room to wait for the sun to start its western descent, which wouldn't hit full force until three. While I was racing to lower the thermostat to prepare for the mid-afternoon onslaught that turned the front of my home into a giant microwave, Suki was poised by her front window ledge to greet her blazing friend. As the long strips of sunlight crept along the carpet, Suki would stretch full-out so that every inch of skin and fur could catch the rays. I would start to sweat just looking at her, and would frequently ask her HOW can you lay in that hot sun and other related statements that were ignored. Nothing could deter Suki from her sun-worshipping. She would move wherever the best sunspots were, following them until they dissipated into the same warm glow that began her day.
Needless to say, Suki was not fond of gloomy, rainy days. Ever resourceful, she would find the nearest light source, usually on my desk, and curl up like a hamburger under a heat lamp. Once, when she was very young, she sat on a candle. Yes, it was lit. It singed the hair on her kitty buns but she was undeterred. To Suki, there was no such thing as too hot.
Four days before her death, as Suki slept on my chest after a day of treatment at the hospital, I had a dream. We were in the car, as we had been so many times, and Suki was in the back seat. On the ledge, actually, climbing toward the back windshield as I continued to drive. There had been a horrible storm, but it was over and the sun was out, warm and brilliant through the glass. Suki went onward and upward, saying "sunny, sunny," over and over. I turned and said, "What is it, Suki? What's wrong?" She said, "Why do my legs feel like rocks?" I said, "I don't know baby, but I'm so sorry." She then looked at me and in a voice as crystal clear and pure as a ray of light, she said, "Thank you for giving me a nice place to live." I have no doubt that in spite of all the food and toys and treats and trips, the hugs and kisses and photographs and parties, she was talking mostly about those sunspots.
On the morning of Suki's death, there was a horrible storm. By the afternoon, the sun was shining on a crystal clear spring day, warm and brilliant in a cloudless blue sky. I took her on the balcony for what would be her last day in the sun, and watched her stretch and soak up the light as she had for so many years while I hoped for a miracle that didn't come. As the sun set on the day and on Suki's life, I held her to keep her as warm as I could, but never as warm as she wanted, I'm sure.
Suki's sunspots are empty now. I look at them with grief and love, smiles and tears. I know in my heart, that wherever Suki is, she is still following the sun.
Suki never ate plants. She preferred instead to supervise them. She was never happier than when she was outside (unless it was when she was curled up with me, but that's another story). She loved her garden. I have numerous pictures of her lounging among her geraniums, sitting underneath her hanging baskets of impatiens, and checking on her rows of salvia. Like any cat, she watched birds, squirrels, and passers-by with equal parts interest and boredom. I would work outside with her nearby, transplanting and watering and pruning and feeding, and she acted like watching me was the most important thing she could be doing at that moment. We spent countless happy hours outside, talking to each other as I asked her about the placement of a certain plant and she would answer in her eloquent Siamese.
So many snapshots come to mind -- a hummingbird hovering directly in front of her face as she stood motionless; her footprints in the snow as she lifted each leg and shook off the flakes, only to have to put each paw back into the cold wet white; blue eyes squinting and blinking as she looked toward the sun she loved; and most of all, hours and hours of sitting on her bench, napping as I watched from the next chair or from inside the house (some of us NEED air-conditioning!).
After Suki died, it was unbearable to be among the plants she loved. I darted out to water them only when I had to, and only her favorites, but even that became too much. A garden without Suki was no garden I wanted anyway. I watched from the windows as the rest died, little by little, during a spring that should have been a time for growth but was instead steeped in mourning. That summer killed some of the others, and subsequent years took their toll as the garden stood neglected, like so many parts of my life since her passing as I fought in vain for justice that never came. Last year I lost the last of Suki's plants -- a basket of impatiens. Nothing of her garden was left.
This year, as I thought of all the losses in my life -- my dad, my grandmother, best friends lost to cancer and aids, departed pets of friends and family, once-promising relationships destroyed by lies and fear, and always, always Suki -- I started thinking about the garden again. It seemed the right time to clean up, throw out, and get on with the business of renewal. Although every spring brings fresh grief because of Suki's passing, it is likewise a perfect season to plant something for her, and for me. It was time.
Suki's garden is blooming again. Geraniums are lined up, baskets of begonias and coleus hang overhead, red salvia stand in rows with zinnias, agaretum, and celosias in clay pots. Brilliant red bougainvilleas trail their graceful limbs and basil and dill are sprouting nearby. And, of course, sunflowers. As I dig in dirt and mud, in between trips to Lowe's to buy one more pot or plant, I have to decide what goes where as there is no Siamese to consult. Still, I could feel Suki with me as she always was, watching me do the work while she did her job of overseeing. I worked all day and into the night, wanting everything to be perfect for her. As I reflected on all of my losses, I was reminded of a poem called "After Awhile" by Veronica Shoffstall that I first heard as a teenager in the early 70s. One line kept coming back again and again:
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
As the moon rose, more plants and flowers took root in their new home. Finally, I was finished. I cleaned up the mess, looked around, and knew that Suki would be proud of our "own garden." I couldn't help a few tears, as they are never far away when I think of my furry soulmate, but mostly I was happy that Suki's garden was back. All except for the impatiens. I couldn't find them anywhere and had to settle for vinca, but I will keep looking.
I sit outside now, by myself, where there was once two, but I am never really alone. The garden is a living, breathing, growing thing that is filled with Suki's spirit, and it has become a place of strength for me as I reassure myself every day that I will survive, that all the losses, the pain, and the grief won't keep me from coming back eventually, just like Suki's garden. The last lines of that long-ago poem tell me the only truth I need right now:
And you learn...
that you really can endure
that you really are strong
and you really do have worth.
And you learn and you learn.
With every goodbye, you learn.
Copyright 2005 Julie Catalano. Original text and photographs may not be reproduced, reposted, reprinted, or distributed without permission.