by Eryk Hanut
For Purrball, on the third anniversary of her
Purrby. Pupuchat. Furry-Purry. Bambi Cat. Furrby.
There are no ways of talking about cats in general, and
this lady cat in particular. that allows one to come off
as a mentally healthy person. Or as what we think of as
‘mentally healthy’. Yet, it’s okay to lose one’s
mind if it’s over mad love, and this was mad love.
To this day, I am still certain that she chose us.
Very likely, she thought that we had been given to her.
And yes, we were, body and soul.
We met her on Wednesday, March 30, 1998, at the animal
shelter on Mojave Road in North Las Vegas. We wanted to
adopt a kitten, and there were many kittens there. And
there she was—looking lost but regal, resigned but
proud, like an exiled monarch, with peridot eyes, that
had seen it all. The red-haired assistant vet said to us,
" She is six years old. She is a darling, but who
wants a six years old cat?" Andrew and I did.
When I took her out of the cage, held her and buried
my nose in her tortoise-shell coat, she answered by
licking my arm. Then, she bit me; like a lover. She didn’t
smell of cat; she smelled of fresh bread.
Back at home, we confronted the difficult task of
naming her. Having been born Eryk-Gustaf-German-Ghislain,
I knew that some names are more difficult to bear than
others; we took a dive into the Divine Feminine lexicon,
hesitating between Isis, Guadalupe, Astarte or Ishtar.
The black-and-green olive, new empress looked at us with
supreme disdain each time we pronounced a different name
and took refuge under the library sofa. This lasted
three days. She did not accept any kind of food I
offered her. "Wet cat food? Dry food then? Tuna
perhaps? Salmon? Pureed chicken breast? What about
pudding? Whipped cream or melting Haagen-Dazs? Why not
try this canned milk formulated for kittens and
fabulously caloric?" Frantic, I called the shelter;
they told me that a cat who does not eat, if healthy, is
just adapting to her new environment. A new worry was
born: how could I know if she was healthy? I called all
the vets I could find in the Southern Nevada yellow
pages and left imploring messages on their answering
machines. I called cat breeders. I called my sister, who
was then traveling in Turkey. I was seriously thinking
of seeing a white witch when, on Saturday evening, she
pushed open, with her nose, the door of the room where
we were sitting on the floor watching TV with our friend
Bridget Bell. She entered, stopped, and looked around
like a visiting Queen. She brushed passed Bridget, who
reached out, held her against her heart and whispered to
her that she was "a purrball." She instantly
seemed to approve of the name, and from that moment, she
became our Purrball. The perfect child. The visiting
angel-tiger, with which we could share tender feasts of
affection and subtle intimacies of the spirit. The One.
Purrball was a miracle of softness, of tact. For two
years, she slept between the two of us, her
mandarin-shaped head on the same level as ours, resting
on a little pillow made out of cerise sari fabric. I
think that we must have looked like a New Yorker cat
Purrball fell madly in love with Andrew from the
first night, with the sort of love that Pheadra had for
Hippolyte, Garbo for John Gilbert, and my fourteen-year
old niece for Ben Affleck; Andrew was the answer to all
her needs. Light fell on her world when he walked into a
room. When he was away, her life was a long wait for his
return. From the road, he would call and she would purr
passionately into the phone at the sound of his voice.
Purrball and I were not romantically involved. We
were buddies. For her, I was another cat; a big brother,
a grand-pa perhaps, and sometimes, a butler. I was the
one to get the appalled looks when I presented her with
a bowl of diet food, worrying about her Taylor-esque
weight fluctuations. When I was alone watching
television too late for her taste, Purrball would pace
up and down to let me know it was time for us to go to
bed. But when I was sad, she would walk in my room and
prod me with her forehead, smelling of wheat grass. She
would sit on my lap, so close as if she wanted to crawl
into me to console me, my Shaman-cat.
In early May 2000, I noticed that Purrball was eating
less. Then she stopped eating at all. Immediately, I
took her to the vet, who diagnosed a fatally enlarged
heart—a heart that grows too big. Such a "Purrball
disease," I thought. For the next four days, I
fought the unavoidable and blinded myself with denial.
Incapable of letting her go, I tried every medical trick
in the book, from ultrasound and pumping fluid from her
congested lungs, to electric shock, and force-feeding
her with a tube in her nose and a high "Infanta"
collar around her neck, to prevent her from scratching
it off. I bargained with God, called her vet ignorant,
and threatened the Virgin Mary and all the saints of my
personal Pantheon. I begged Purrball: "Don’t do
this to me; Don’t do this to Andrew. We have more
things to do together. You can’t go now, we just met,
you are only eight years old, cats are supposed to have
nine lives, I will never serve you IAMS diet again, you
will have all the whipped cream you want, don’t go now…"
On Monday, May the eighth, we took her home from the
vet, for the last time. She was extremely weak and could
not control her bodily functions anymore.
When we first met, I told Purrball several times that
the only regret I had was that I had never known her as
a kitten. That night, I lay on the floor next to her.
Painfully she stood and tottered over to me, gluing her
body to mine. For three hours, she purred in a way she
had never purred before; She purred with a kitten’s
voice. She was completing her circle and granting me my
wish—I was holding my little eight-year-old, newborn
At dawn on Tuesday, Andrew rubbed her head with holy
water and got ready to fly to Los Angeles, where he was
scheduled to give a lecture that evening. As he leaned
over to kiss her, she stood and purred again, with fully
recovered power. That cheered us both up so much.
"The old girl might make it," Andrew said. But
as he closed the front door, she collapsed and fell
asleep, waking up from time to time and looking
disoriented. At noon, I took her in my arms, removed the
feeding tube delicately from her nose, cut off the
Infanta collar, and cuddled her. For the first time in
four days, through my tears, I asked her to go; I told
her it was time and that I understood. I thanked her for
so much love. I told her that she need not to stay any
longer for us. if her time had come to go. At exactly
four o’clock, she coughed three times, and her little
head fell on my shoulder, as if something had delicately
snapped her neck. The radio was playing Amanda McBroom’s
song, "The Rose".
I cradled her like a doll, until her body seemed to
grow heavier. Then I laid her on the floor of our
meditation room, surrounded by violet tea candles. I
called Andrew in Los Angeles, Leila Hadley in New York,
Bridget Bell in Virginia, and Dorothy Walters in San
Francisco. Afterwards, I devastated the rose garden and
poured a bucket filled with rose petals around her. I
sat by her, watching the flickering light on her still
shiny coat. Sometimes, I really believed she was
breathing; words like catalepsy, deep coma danced in my
head. I later went to Home Depot and bought the finest
white sand I could find. Back home, I still
half-expected not to find her dead. I asked my neighbor
Kelly to come and confirm that Purrball had in fact
died. Kelly knelt down by my cat. "She is gone,
Honey" she said gently. At last, at three in the
morning, I fell asleep on the floor next to Purrball,
holding her paw.
At seven, Andrew rushed in, his face red and swollen
from a night of tears. We decided her shroud should be a
black velvet pillowcase. We wanted to bury her before
the desert heat took over, before we had to witness any
of the sad things that happen to dead bodies. Then, we
laid her in our backyard, covered with rose and tulip
petals, like a pagan princess. Before sewing up the
pillowcase, I enclosed in it a picture of Andrew and her
favorite "magic" ball, the one that she could
never catch and whose hops mesmerized her. Over her, I
poured the pearly sand to spare her the rocky Nevada
That night, after Andrew fell asleep, I walked back
barefoot to the garden and dug Purrball up with my
hands, my eyes burning by the salt of tears. My fingers
were cut and bloody, when I embraced her for the last
time; her body still strangely supple. I held her for
hours, sometimes cradling her and sometimes howling;
when the sky turned milky blue and the first birds woke
up, I finally had the strength to say farewell.
The following weekend, Andrew had to fly to
Vancouver, so my friend Maria Todisco drove from
California to be with me. We bought boulders of pink
quartz and rosemary bushes to adorn her resting place.
When everything seemed right, I placed on the ground
above Purrball a stone plaque brought back from China,
with the I-Ching hexagram on it that means "Eternal
On May 9, 2001, in the afternoon, I was waiting in a
queue at the Post office. As my turn to approach the
window came, I mechanically looked at my watch. It was
four o’clock. "It’s been a year now," I
thought. At that very moment, the radio started to play
"The Rose." I froze and knew my face had
turned ashen. My eyes filled with tears. "What’s
wrong?" Jay, the postman asked. I explained.
"Well, your kitty still thinks about you,"
I already knew.
© Copyright 2003 Eryk Hanut.
All Rights Reserved.
Eryk Hanut is a
writer and photographer. His latest books are "The
Road to Guadalupe" (Tarcher-Putnam 2001) and the
recently published, "The Blessings of
Guadalupe"( Council Oak books- 2002). He is currently
working on his memoir, "Jazz Mediteranee," to be
published by Tarcher-Putnam in 2003. His new photographic
show, "Sacred Hearts," will open in the Bay Area
in summer 2003. He lives in Nevada and New York with his
husband, Andrew Harvey, his two cats, Puli and Princey,
and his rabbit, Snow. You can visit him at www.erykhanut.com,
which will be reopened in April, and contact him through firstname.lastname@example.org.
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