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dopo il punto morto superiore*

Thanksgiving Day, I paused on the landing and peered down through the stair railing at the cat, laying in her usual orange peel curl under the bright late morning sun beaming on her chair. What's funny now is that I remember doing that so vividly, in one of those strangely self-aware moments that are rare in the scramble to-do of everyday life. Sure, you may pause and appreciate the good stuff all the time, but to step back and see yourself doing it in a little award ceremony of patting yourself on the back for being so damn lucky in your relatively simple life? That doesn't happen on a regular basis. Maybe a holiday like that adds some of the sensitivity padding you need to bounce out of the now to appreciate it in the now. So that was how I stood in the Thanksgiving sunshine and looked down at my cat, and thought to myself, "How great is this? Standing here with nothing to do but unfog my head from last night out with friends in the neighborhood by a walk to the pretty harbor, finish the pie and drive just over an hour to see my family, all of whom I am happy to see and I love. And I am well, and not broke. And life right now is, after all, good and simple."

Four hours later, my little cat was thrashing her straining body against the floor underneath my bed, flipping from side to side in a futile effort to gain some comfortable posture while her veins slowly collapsed. Five hours later, her breathing grew labored. Labored like a prison chain gang ditch digger sweating on a shadeless southern road on the hottest day of the summer. She pulled slower and slower, her heart too weak to throw her shovel down into the dirt and go any deeper. And with my head on the hardwood next to hers and my finger touching her little white paw that always made me think of a goodluck rabbit foot, a talisman dangling off some early 80's keychain as a boardwalk summer's cheap keepsake, she died.

This can't be some sweet, catnip eulogy, not for how we lived the past 16 years together, from her cold snowstorming rescue day to my darkest days of broken bones when she rescued me. And all the other days when she was there, padding through the various apartments, stretched out on the different beds, purring under whichever hand I happened to be clung onto for however many years, and then always when I was just on my own, arriving in bed every night to curl at my waist in her little bean shape while I fell asleep. (Sometimes I pictured her sort of like a cute and hairy purring external version of my kidney, if kidneys really do look like beans.)

Sweet old puss. I can only be happy that she was there for all those years. Just out of college, when she jumped into the open passenger side door of my idling car at the curb outside of Booker T. Washington Middle School, it was like playing adult to take a pet. Nothing is yours, really, in those days when you matriculate out into your own new city, on your way, Laverne and Shirleying with your friends into what can only be some thoroughly perfect adventure that you don't even own yet. New pad, new pet, not any of it up to anyone except yourself and what your scrawny paychecks will scratch out to let you roam through it all. Coffees and sitting out all night on Sowebo corners only to unlock the door at dawn and sink into indian style right there on the hallway floor with my notebook and pen, cheap beer and bands and pool games and road trips. That's when we met and why her name was the most succinct way I knew how to capture freedom, the idea and ideal and ideology all zipped up in the mountain climbing Japhy Ryder, who wilded and pontificated and red wined and balled his way all over Berkeley and up the Pacific coast. Good old Japhy. It was only for a second that I considered naming her Booker T. But that didn't mean hardly anything at all to me.

What's hard is to edit my grief, limit it to just her. Because now, here in the first house I've bought, settling into a real stab at the adult, without her, it's like I've lost some tangible proof, the ticket stub to that show, that perfect long, live night, all the years between my early 20's and now. All that happy freedom. I know I haven't. It all happened, and she was there throughout. She was there almost up until just now. Which, as I remember, was also happy.

* Literally translated, Dead Center. Italian car-speak for that moment after the piston has passed the top of its travel in the cylinder and starts on the down stroke.

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