basementsongs

Julie said she was waiting for me.Shawn Colvin Cover Girl

In 1994, outside the special effects warehouse where I worked, a cat had delivered a litter underneath a pile of lumber directly next to the open area where we used fiberglass chemicals. To save these babies from cancerous fumes they were moved to a safer location, but the mother never returned. A group of us divided up the kittens and when the runt, a squeaky fur ball with white fur and black and white gray patches one her back and legs, was the only one unclaimed, Julie and I adopted her. We named her Doodle.

The first night the two of us woke up periodically to feed Doodle from a syringe. She was so tiny that Julie could put her in the front pocket of her overalls. Over the next week or so she slept on the bed with us, or on my chest where she would knead my chest with her claws. When she was hungry she would “mew,” which was pathetic and sweet at the same time. This all took place in our first apartment, a one bedroom sweatbox located in North Hollywood. It was a big place, but the AC didn’t work, thus the summer days were almost unbearable from the hundred-plus degree heat in the San Fernando Valley. Couple that with the class bells from nearby North Hollywood High during the school year, and you can understand why the rent was pretty cheap.

Our other two cats, Otis and Ella, treated Doodle with indifference. As the two of them were skittish and would not let us near them, Doodle became the type of pet we always imagined. She was friendly, purred when you scratched her ears or butt and tolerated whenever we picked her up and danced around the living room. On blazing afternoons when I tried to stay cool without moving I’d often doze off with Doodle lying on my chest. It was relaxing. One afternoon I returned from work and she was missing. Then I heard her cries, as if she was trapped somewhere in the apartment. After a frantic search I discovered that Doodle had wedged herself under our convertible couch and crawled into a crevice between the metal springs of the pull-out bed. If you’ve ever owned a convertible, you know how damn heavy they can be, and can imagine how fun it was lifting the couch to get her out.

She did this regularly until she got too big to squeeze under the couch.

During that first year Julie and I were a young married couple with little money. We went out maybe once or twice a month, but were quite content sitting at home on a Saturday night lounging on the couch with Doodle close by, the other cats chasing each other around, and listening to Shawn Colvin singing Tom Waits’s “Heart of a Saturday Night” or covering Greg Brown’s  “One Cool Remove” as a wonderful duet with Mary Chapin Carpenter. Colvin is one of those artists who is not only a fine songwriter, but also interprets other people’s work with a degree of grace and beauty that makes the songs her own. I find her Cover Girl album, and the numerous contributions she’s made to tribute albums, just as moving as any of her deeply felt personal songs.

When Sophie was born in 1999, Doodle was now the cat that showed indifference. By then she was the queen, lounging around most of the time. She was friendly enough to Sophie, although we had to make sure she stayed out of Sophie’s crib; I believe she thought it was some special bed we’d constructed for her. Two years later we made the big move from apartment life into our house, which had a new hallway to run up and down, rooms to hide in, and a outdoor patio where the cats could bask in the sun as long as they wanted. Doodle tended to stay indoors, choosing the comfy pillows of the couch or our bed to continue her reign over the household. Her reign would not last.

The end of that year was very tense and full of a great deal of uncertainty, with Jacob’s birth and his diagnosis of CF at Christmastime. Thus, when one of the cats began urinating throughout the house, primarily in the living room, our stress level went through the roof. Not only did it smell horrendous, it was unsanitary for a 3-year old and infant to be rolling around on. We knew we’d eventually have to purchase new carpeting to get drive out the stench. The problem was we didn’t know which cat was behind the foul deed. Doodle answered that question one night as I sat watching Sportscenter. With my feet propped on the coffee table, she trotted out to the living room, directly to the spot where all the peeing had been done. Then, with a look that said, “Hey, look at me, I can do whatever I want,” she cleared her bladder. It was all I could do not to wring her neck. That was the night Doodle became an outdoor cat.

After that night, for seven years Doodle owned the patio. She often roamed through neighbors’ yards (I’m not sure exactly where to), but each evening she returned to reside on one of the metal patio chairs, squeeze herself between the air conditioning unit and the house (she always liked cramped spaces) or just lay in the dirt under the large tree in our backyard. When the sun went down and the air grew cooler I’d bring her inside to place her in a kennel, for safe measure. But Doodle preferred to remain outside, often sprinting back to the door the moment she was set down in the house. Outside she could rule, and rule she did. If another cat from the neighborhood dared enter our yard, Doodle became very territorial, growling and hissing to chase them off. Meanwhile, whenever a raccoon or possum would sneak up to eat her food, Doodle looked on with disinterest. It was as if she thought these wild creatures beneath her and not worth the hassle. After all, she was domesticated. Either that or she was smart enough not to tussle with a huge coon. Doodle remained a loyal and friendly cat, always rubbing against your leg and shedding her fur on your clothes.

Last week, quite suddenly, Doodle began walking more slowly and looking feeble. We quickly realized that she had stopped eating and drinking her water. I’ve heard that cats know when their time on earth is up, and we would tell just by looking at her that she was dying. Doing all that we could to make her comfortable the one thing that seemed to put her most at ease was holding her and petting her fur. By Saturday night her once strong “meow” was a weak “croak.” When I laid her down to sleep that night, the assumption was that she’d pass away sometime in the night. The next morning I was the last one up and was surprised to find Doodle still conscious, with Julie sitting beside her.

“She feels so cold,” Julie remarked.

Doodle let out a few more of her warbled croaks and I took her up in my arms. Looking into her eyes I knew she was close to the end. For the next half hour I laid on the floor with Doodle on my chest, much in the same way I used to 15 years ago, when Julie and I were a young married couple and Doodle was a kitten. I stroked her head and back as Doodle’s breath became more labored. A minute would pass in which she would be still, and then the old girl would gasp for air. This went on for ten minutes.

Silence, then a gasp, then silence, then a gasp. Then just silence.

It’s a strange feeling to hold a creature as its life leaves its body. I hope in the afterlife that Doodle is lounging around in the glow of the eternal sun; I hope that she is at peace.

As I placed Doodle down and covered her with a blanket, Julie came over to me and we looked at each other.

“She was waiting for you,” she said.

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