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Eryk Hanut

For Purrball
by Eryk Hanut

For Purrball, on the third anniversary of her departure.

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.

Purrball (1992-2000)

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 cartoon.

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…"

The Road to Guadalupe by Eryk Hanut    Blessings of Guadalupe by Eryk Hanut    The Card and Rumi Book Pack by Eryk Hanut

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 kitty.

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 soil.

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 friendship".

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," he said.

I already knew.

© Copyright  2003 Eryk Hanut.  All Rights Reserved. 

Eryk Hanut
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 visibleinkstudio@aol.com.


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