The following is the story of the decline and death (euthanasia) of my cat Tweaks, on April 30, 2018. During my grieving process, I found other people’s stories of their own pet’s deaths, declines, and poetry about animal deaths helped me to grieve the loss of my own beloved cat.

It is in that spirit that I have posted my own story. When another of my cats, Apricot, died in 2014, I recounted her death as well. I had previously hidden that post (after feeling ashamed, although I’m not sure why) but, after grieving, and realizing that sharing these stories can help others, I made it public again.


On April 30, 2018, (a Monday), I attempted to load my incredibly weak and sick cat, Tweaks, into his carrier.

Even though he could barely move, he still had enough left in him to parachute his legs to make it as hard as possible for me to get him into the carrier.

On April 28, a Saturday, I took Tweaks to the vet because he had stopped eating the night before. I couldn’t even interest him in tuna.

After some blood work, an x-ray and a physical exam, they decided that he likely had a “mass” on his liver. That’s why he wasn’t eating. (Over the past few years, he had been gradually losing weight and becoming a pickier and pickier eater).

Tweaks on Sunday (pictured here) was very weak and restless.

The prognosis was “poor,” but the vet still gave me some liver medications, a syringe and showed me how to force feed him and how to force him to take pills.

I was hopeful that I could get him to start eating again, that there was no mass.

On Saturday night, I managed to get 20 CCs of water mixed with wet cat food into him, and onto him, and onto my clothes and the floor. It was hard, but I did it. I also managed to give him his pill. That would be the last time.

Sunday (April 29), I tried multiple times to both “pill” him and to force feed him with the syringe. All the attempts went badly but more importantly, I could see he was quickly deteriorating. By the end of Sunday, he could barely jump, he could barely walk and he was incredibly restless. Never have I seen a cat get up and move so much.

He sat on my lap on the couch a few times, for a few minutes, and briefly joined me on his favorite spot: half on the arm of a recliner, half on my leg.

Each time, he couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes.

I kept a vigil with him. He moved between the inside of the closet to by bed, to the floor, to the doorway, and then back to the inside of the closet.

A few times, he jumped on the bed, moving from his heating pad, to the middle of the bed, to the bottom, and then a few times, coming up to my chest level, briefly lying down before moving again, the same spot, next to me, he used to sleep in when he was well.

At bed time, he finally decided to move to the older chair in the office and he spent the night there.

As he declined, Tweaks kept on moving on the floor, on the bed, from sun to shade.

When I woke in the morning (April 30), I could hear a sound here or there in the house, but I wasn’t sure it was him. I woke early, maybe 6 a.m., but I was afraid to check on him. I was afraid he had passed in the night. I was hopeful he had passed during the night so that his suffering would be over. I was scared he had passed in the night because that meant I would not be able to spend his last moments with him.

He was awake, swishing his tail. I picked him up and put him on the bed. He continued to be restless. I gave him one last cuddle on the bed.

In the living room, I laid out a partially folded flannel sheet for him.

After I left the house, I texted my girlfriend, Michelle. (She was at the house when I came back with Tweaks on Saturday, after taking him to the vet. I asked her to go home. I prefer to be alone when I grieve.) I told her, if she wanted to see him one last time, she should head to the house then because the appointment was for 11:15.

When I came home, after finishing a story at work, (Monday was the B-section deadline day) (I left at 10:50. I had previously called the vet and made a 11:15 appointment) he was on the flannel sheets.

As I tried to get him into the carrier, this incredibly weak being managed to parachute out his front and hind legs, managed to make it incredibly hard to get him in. I did. I still buckled his carrier into the front seat. I drove to the vet, the AC on medium, the music barely audible, taking each turn, dip and bump and gingerly as I could.

In the waiting room were two other people waiting to be seen. We waited. And waited. I opened the top of his carrier (it was soft shelled) and was able to rub his head and cheeks. Up until I put him in the carrier one last time, he would still head butt my hand.

The woman next to me had a silent chiuaha and the man had a 15-year-old small dog. They thought the older dog might have had a seizure.

Of course, they asked if my kitty was sick.

This set me off and, through sobs, I said I was here to euthanize him.

They asked what happened, and I explained, as best I could.

The man recounted the few cats he’s had, as well as his daughter’s cat. One cat he took with him everywhere and he was driving to Boise, Idaho, when he let her out of the car at a park so she could pee. (He was driving a convertible). Nearly 200 miles later, he realized he didn’t know where the cat was and he drove back to the park, but couldn’t find her. He put an ad in the local paper, offering a $200 reward. As he was driving around, looking for her, he saw an animal on the side of the road that had been run over.

He didn’t stop, because he couldn’t stop. He couldn’t bear to know she had been killed. He never saw her again.

The man said he cannot bear to get another animal after his 15-year-old (spunky!) dog dies. It’s too much heartbreak.

My dad said the same thing when my first cat, Angel, passed away (from complications of old age). He told me he did not want to have another animal because of the inevitable, or possible, pain losing such a beloved one causes.

I got her when I was in the first or second grade and she lived to 19 or 20, despite problems with cat anorexia and bulimia. (In later life, she had her teeth removed because of the bulimia).

I left her in Carson City with my dad when I went away for college at 18, although she was still bonded to me. She truly became my dad’s cat after I moved to Germany for over a year to be an au pair.

This is tweaks in 2016. His decline was incredibly fast, as it is with many cats.

Finally they took me into a room and the vet gave Tweaks a sedative. With the carrier open, I was able to pet him as he fell asleep (although his eyes remained partially open).

Finally the vet came back, pulled him out of the carrier and into a towel, shaved his leg, dabbed it with alcohol, stuck an IV line in him, hooked up the barbiturate to his IV and plunged it in. (“It’s the same thing the kids are killing themselves with out there,” she said, which wasn’t totally true because barbiturates and opioids are different types/families of drugs and as the cops and courts reporter, who reads all the autopsy reports for Rio Arriba County, I can attest very few people overdose on barbiturates in our area).

“Take as much time as you need,” she said, before wrapping him in the towel.

Somehow, he was placed back in the carrier and, after a few minutes of uncontrollable sobbing, I went to pay. The vet waived the fee (likely because her fellow vet gave me a 30-day supply of liver pills when his life expectancy was closer to seven days, at a cost of $50) and I walked to my car, wailing.

Finally, able to drive home, I started digging his grave. The day before, I had gone to Lowe’s to buy a shovel so I would be prepared. Three-quarters of the way through digging the hole, the brand-new shovel broke, and I went back to the hardware store for a shovel that didn’t have a wood handle.

When I arrived home again, I finished digging the whole, went back inside, grabbed a polarfleece blanket and said my one last goodbye to my lifeless cat. His face was pointed away from me and I remember looking at his eyes one last time. The membrane had already begun to cloud over his beautiful eyes. I wrapped him in the towel, followed by the blanket.

I thought it was ironic that this one last time, I was able to make him into a kitty burrito, when he had so vehemently refused it before.

I carried him to the grave, placed him in, and then got a can of smoked sardines, a can of tuna, and one of the toy rats he so lovingly destroyed with his back paws before he started to lose his desire to play.

After cleaning myself up, I dressed and went back to work.

It wasn’t until the following Wednesday, May 2, that I was able to get closer to finishing his grave. I de-labeled 10 stubby beer bottles, cleaned them, and used them to mark the borders of his grave, to mark the 10 years of his life before I got him.

The plan is to plant some shade-friendly annual flowers on his grave, and mark the outer boundaries with a few more bottles to commemorate the years I got to spend with him and two blue flourishes for his eyes.

Now, each day when I open the front door, I expect him to come running. I walk to the bedroom to charge my phone and I expect him to be on the bed.


Early life

When I first got Tweaks, it was shortly after I lost Apricot. I went to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter which, if you’ve never been, is actually hard to get to, off of the frontage road of 599.

I was walking around the cat room and I saw him, and he was friendly enough. He was 10, a little old, but I figured that older cats need to be adopted too, need to be offered the good life later in life. Santa Fe is overrun with older cats whose owners abandoned them, moved away or, more frequently, died.

I learned from the staff that Tweaks was originally brought to the shelter, 10 years prior, as a stray. He was then neutered, chipped and adopted out.

For whatever reason, that same family (or person) brought him back 10 years later. He was still in the system, just, he was no longer a kitten.

At the shelter, they told me they thought he had arthritis, as evidenced by the way he peed in his litter box there. When I took him to the vet for his initial checkup, they said, don’t worry about it. He was never creaky, although he was cranky after longer naps.

Tweaks loved his heating pad. He was not a fan of being harassed during naps.

One of the first things I bought for tweaks was a bunch of polar fleece blankets. He was never that much of a fan. I also bought him a heating pad because of the arthritis.

If you have an older cat, I highly suggest you get him or her a heating pad.

This is the specific version I got (link to Amazon), the “K&H Pet Products Thermo-Kitty Mat – Heated Mat for Cats – 6 watts – MET Safety Listed”

I would put it away in the summers, when the house would get to hot, but otherwise, it would stay plugged in all the time, on the bed. He loved that thing.

I visited with him in the one-on-one play area and he immediately jumped in my lap. I took him home and initially gave him the run of the house. He quickly hid in the back of the closet of the house I was renting in La Puebla.

With Apricot, I had followed the normal instructions: keep the cat in one room (usually the bathroom) until its acclimated, and then let it explore. Apricot, unlike Tweaks, was incredibly head-strong, brave and rambunctious. She immediately wanted out, and also, she immediately wanted outside.

After a while, Tweaks warmed to the house and either that first night, or maybe a few nights after, he started sleeping on the bed.

I never called Tweaks my “little boy” or “baby” or “child.” I figured that I adopted a full-grown man. At 10, he was 56 in equivalent human years.

I always wondered, and still do, about Tweaks’ early life, and what he was like as a kitten.

Unlike Apricot, Tweaks did not really want to go outside. With Apricot, I tried to let her into the small fenced area in the back of the house but she immediately jumped the fence and went exploring. I would later compromise with her and leave a window open during the day and close it at night. In the early mornings (4-6 a.m.) she would bat me in the face with her paw, demanding to be let out then, after an hour of exploring, come back in.

Tweaks, on the other hand, he liked to sleep in. When I let him into the fenced area, he never tried to jump the fence. He would just sit in the sun and observe.

Later on, when I moved to Espanola, I did not let him outside at all because there was no fence. After a year, I put small fences on either side of the back of my house so he could be outside. He only got out twice. Once, he jumped over the 4-foot-high chicken wire and got into the front yard. The other time, he managed to climb the seven-foot coyote fence at night. I found him on the opposite side, unable to climb back up.

Well, here’s to you Tweaks. I might have only had four years with you, and I was convinced up until your vet appointment that I was going to have another four at least, but the heartbreak, tears, the hurt, was all worth it.

I miss you buddy.


Notes made during the decline

I watched Tweak’s decline and, as it happened, I decided to write down what was happening, to purge a little of the emotion between bouts of bawling. The following is those notes:

Watching Tweaks quickly fade, as he stumbles, refuses to eat, paws at the ground before not drinking water, is incredibly hard.

(Monday morning, he walked over to his water bowl and tried to so viciously paw the ground before a few laps of water, but there was no viciousness there. There was only his failing motor skills, exaggerated motions.)

Pilling him is incredibly hard and it makes me feel like my last moments with him (I am sure that whatever is going on with his liver will be fatal) are going to be bad, bad memories and he will die hating me, even though I am doing what little I can to save his life.

I’m upset that we could have gone the feeding tube route (internet research) but the vet never brought it up and seems to think that it will be fatal irregardless.

I’m upset at myself for, in the middle of crying, thinking about what I will do next, whether or not that’s a coping mechanism.

I know I’m going to lose him and it hurts so much.

On the afternoon of April 29, after one botched pilling/feeding attempt, Tweaks continued to move between the bed, the couch and one of the office chairs.

Then, I went to look for him and found him in the back of the closet.

Although I already suspected that he was not going to make it, that cemented it for me.

I continue to struggle, especially considering the 29th was a Sunday, whether I should try to seek a second opinion and a feeding tube or if I should just recognize that he has a mass on his liver.

One of the things that seems to help me grieving process is reading the personal stories of other people who have lost their pets (cats or dogs) to old age or sickness.

Reading poems about lost pets and the grieving process also seems to be helping. It triggers more emotions, but I feel better afterward. Assisted grieving. Triggered grieving.


Some memories

I wanted to share a few memories of Tweaks, especially before they fall victim to time.

Given a whole couch to sit on, Tweaks would seek out the newsprint.

One of Tweaks’ favorite things was to sit on paper.

It was weird. I never understood why.

I guess it’s good that I work as a newspaper reporter.

Tweaks really liked sitting on paper. Newspaper, sketching paper, glossy paper, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if it was on a couch, a lap, a table, the floor. He wanted to sit on paper.

Tweaks had a cat tree and usually when I’d get home in the evening, he would be on the cat tree, staring at the window. As soon as he made eye contact, he would start meowing at me. I could see his jaw moving, even if I couldn’t hear him.

He was a people kitty.

When I had one of the interns from work over, before we went out to La Madera to canvas for a story, he immediately jumped on Jacob’s lap.

Later on, when my dad came to visit, he would stay in the bedroom. I never figured out why he liked Jacob so much.

21. If using buses, protect your stuff if its raining

The first time it happened, I wasn’t angry. I was just sad. After a sleeper bus ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang, arriving at 6 a.m., I got my bag out of the bottom of the bus and found it was soaked. Not just soaked. Sopping wet. Still, I shouldered the bag, moved my smaller day pack to my chest, and trudged toward my hostel, soaking my shirt all the way through.

After getting a few more hours of sleep in one of the hostel’s empty dorm rooms, meant for travelers who don’t get to check in yet, I opened my backpack.

It was the worst possible scenario. All of my clothes in the bag were completely soaked. Not just a little. I could literally wring the water out of each piece of soaked clothing. Worse yet, two of my prime camera lenses had been wrapped in the same clothes. They appeared to be undamaged by the water, but I knew I was going to be staying in my dirty clothes until the following day, when I could pick up my cleaned and dried laundry.

Before I go any further, what should you do?

  1. Wrap your clothes up in plastic bags if you’re worried about the rains
  2. Buy rain covers for your bags.

(Read the rest of the story after the jump.)


13. Consider your shoes and a hat

I’m by no means a monster of a man but I do have big feet, by some standards (11 1/2) and I have a large head. This means it was nearly impossible to find shoes or sandals in Thailand, when I needed to buy some for walking in the jungle, because everything was just too small.

The same went for hats. Almost all the hats I could find were just too small for my head.

My take-away? Next time, I’m bringing my own hat (you really need it) and I’m making sure to bring a pair of amphibious sandals or shoes with me because I know, as a large footed man, I’m going to be screwed otherwise.

The other thing to consider about your shoes is, bring something comfortable to walk in that can also stand the heat. That may mean shoes with socks, or just flip flops, or, whatever makes you feel good.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

That's a polish guy up ahead. We're in the jungle. Honest to god jungle. Stepped in muck so deep, nearly lost my sandal. Bring some amphibious shoes/sandals. Please. And consider a hat for your big, non-Thai head. Taken on Dec. 13. 2015.

That’s a polish guy up ahead. We’re in the jungle. Honest to god jungle. Stepped in muck so deep, nearly lost my sandal. Bring some amphibious shoes/sandals. Please. And consider a hat for your big, non-Thai head. Taken on Dec. 13. 2015.

A poem


Sept. 22, 2014

La Puebla, New Mexico


I buried my cat today.

She died the night before but they told me today, late morning. I should not just write my cat, she she had and had a name outside my own existence. She proved she had her own.

Apricot. I buried Apricot today. I buried here at the end of the orchard, next to a corner. The ground was orange-red clay. I thought it was fitting with her fur.

I dug her grave first. I made sure it was plenty deep.

Then, I grabbed a box cutter and the box the vet gave her to me in and I walked over to her grave, with a polar fleece blanket she should sleep on, resting on my feet.

I opened the box, taped, with the box cutter. She was in a plastic kitchen bag.

I cried. But that’s a given, the bouts of bawling and tears and sobs. Tears, the by-product of the bawling and the sobbing.

I opened the bag with the box cutter and I took her cold body out. When I first touched the bag, I felt her. Frozen.

I moved the blanket, that I had brought, further under the cover of an overhanging tree and put my frozen cat’s corpse on it. I cried. I petted her. I observed her frozen tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth.

I laid her on her left side, the side of the vomit, the yellow liquid had frozen to her fur. I looked at her face and I did not know, I did not want to now, I do not want to know, how much pain she was in. Her eyes were almost completely closed. Just a silver open. I should write something poetic, about either her fair at the end, being in a strange kennel, or about her nature as a cat. I reject these.

Most likely, she died in pain.

The vet said she likely died of an infection, that she had a lot of fluids in her her body cavity, when they did the surgery, and she had an infection.

I did not know if anyone was there to check on her on Sunday, the day before the night she died. I know she died from an infection.

I saw her slightly bloated belly, her body still frozen, and I petted her a few last times. Her fur was as soft as ever.

I wrapped her in the blanket, put her in the grave (I do not want to acknowledge its nature as a mere hole) and put a few handfuls of dirt over her wrapping, of her and her front paw, where her IV line had been.

I noticed her back paw was dirty or bloody. Her body, slightly curved, a crescent or half circle. The former sounds so much more regal. Half moon. Her her coloring, a calico, white and black and orange. The moon on a normal night, the moon in a wildfire or engorged or close to us here. Orange. And black, the new moon.

I buried her proper, with shovel upon shovel full of dirt. I tried to keep the topmost layer of the orange-red clay dirt, in keeping with her own coloration.

I came to peace with the black and grey decayed earth, matching her own black. I raked her grave, and the area around, not to mask the intrusion, but to make it even.

Four bottles not mark the corner of her grace: one white wine bottle (clear), two green ones and a single stubby brown beer bottle. They are to represent her tri-coloration, her female caliconess. Clear for her white. Green for her orange. Brown for her black.

I’m still crying over her. I am in a shock.

My dad wrote me, the point is now how she was injured, or received her injury. The point is she is gone. (The point is she is no longer suffering.)

She will not come back; her body will thaw and decay, shielded only slightly by the synthetic burial shroud. Or, just, her blanket shroud, or her synthetic shroud.

In the early morning, she will not wake me with her her razor claws on my face, demanding attention. When I come home, I will no longer listen for the tell-tale sign of her collar’s bell or feel heartened as I watch her run to me.

She is dead, killed by an infection, following two surgeries. One done in the middle of the night, one done in the middle of the day. She is dead, killed by an infection, after something happened, causing an extreme hernia, causing internal bleeding and shredding her urethra between one of her kidneys and her bladder.

She was missing her collar when I saw her Thursday night. I suspect she had been lying under my bed. She came out and I found her distended belly, her extreme lethargy. (I have told his tale now many times, and I will tell this tale, of her finding, many more. My opinion of it is, as my dad wrote about the nature of her injury, moot.)

The last time I touched my living car, she was sitting in a litter box in a kennel, in “extreme amounts of pain.” She meowed, in anger or pain or acknowledgement at me, and I did my best to maintain my composure. The prognosis was good.

The second to last time I touched my living cat, my Apricot, she was in another kennel, lying on her right side against the wall, hopped up on pain medication. It was a better meeting.

My only wishes were to bring her some pain relief and, in that moment, be with her in her passing. In her dying moments and her death.

She died sometime Sunday night in a kennel. They told me Monday, late morning.

I picked up her body in a plastic bag, in a cardboard box.

I buried my cat today, and touched her for the very last time. A feeble, senseless attempt to comfort her in her already long-gone last moments.

I buried my cat today.

Apricot’s grave in La Puebla


Here’s the thing about being a journalist, at least, being a newspaperman.

I think about what I’m going to write while it’s happening. It’s not always pleasant. Most of the time, I’m sure it mucks up what I should be doing or feeling.

It means I look at too many things, and think, would that make a good lede? It’s not things I look at. It’s events, it’s actions, is components of existence. That is, a good first sentence, or more broadly, a good start, to my story? To whatever story I’m writing. To whatever story I assume I will write.

Although I try to avoid recording life (I will take pictures at parties, if that’s my delegated role) I often cannot help myself, often when alone, from thinking about how event, the idea, the moment and the feeling, will and would be written.

I buried my cat today. Really, I buried Apricot today. She lead her own life. But that’s not the point of this post. That’s the point of another post. This is the reporter’s notebook about how I buried my cat, Apricot, today, as NPR would put it.

That is, the bits of the story that didn’t go into the story, but still should get a little air time, get a little more personal. Which is not applicable in this instance, considering this is a blog post, and the preponderance of “I,” thematically, literally and in real terms.

I wrote something. Either a journal entry, or a prose poem, or maybe a story. Maybe a cross between the three, a story that is a little bit of a prose poem that I will eventually paste into my journal. (I write journal entries on my typewriter, then paste them into the journal itself.)

I wrote about Apricot’s death, about her burial, about what happened. But I left much out, as I came to my ending sentences, as I made my final structure.

Here’s the link to just it.

I left out the part, where I think about picking up her corpse at the vet, after paying the bill. ($230 something, roughly 90 percent less than the emergency vet at $2,300 and change) (The total cost came in around $3,000).

They hand me a cardboard box. It weights a little over 8 pounds. Maybe even over 8.5 pounds. I know they listed her weight on the bag-tag, (the veterinary equivalent of the toe-tag?) but I don’t remember.

I left out the part where the pretty vet who dealt with her abscess comes out, and touches my shoulder, and says they did all they could.

(The lady who takes my card asks my how long I’ve been working at the Rio Grande SUN. I’ve never spoken to her before this moment, where I’m paying for dead Apricot’s minuscule vet bills, the big ones having already been paid).

I likely did not respond, more than to say, thank you, or some other courtesy. One of them tells me, it’s always hard, it never gets easier, and this is the worst part about having a pet. That’s the lady I’d not seen before, who took the card.

I will write: the worst part about having any relationship, animal or human, is its ending, especially if the ending is done in death.

The vet, the cute one who came out to say they did all they could, tells me I should come in some time. They often have kittens needing adoption, and I seem like a good pet owner, like a good cat owner. I think she says this, partially, because the bill and receipt and invoice for Apricot’s emergency surgery were attached to the sheet. Everyone saw the $2,320 receipt.

(This comment strikes me something terrible, because it presses on the guilt I feel for allowing her to go outside in the first place, in my reasoning, allowing her to have her own life.)

I do not want a kitten. (I prefer cats, for various reasons). I smile. This is my social obligation. I want to say, what happened? Why wasn’t she on higher levels antibiotics? More intense ones? How much pain was she in when she died? If you knew she was going to die Sunday, if she was doing that bad, why didn’t you call me? I wanted to say one last goodbye, to pet her one last time, to have that kind of closure.  I believed, until I received that phone call, she would be doing fine: she would be coming home with me, if she and I were lucky, that day. I had just finished telling one of my co-worker’s that when I got the call. I want to ask, was anyone even here Sunday? To check her temperature? To see if she needed another surgery, or a change in her meds or even more pain medication?

(It appeared the entire veterinary office knew about her death).

(Shortly after the call, I went home, grieved, came back to work).

(In case it’s not clear, this, and the related posts, are also a form a grieving, although public by nature).

The orderly comes out with my frozen cat in a box. I fold the invoice and receipt, take the box, hold back tears and walk out the door. Once outside, I begin to cry.

In the car, I cry. As I drive away, normal speed, no theatrics here, I cry. I don’t stop until my co-worker calls me. He wants to talk about work. (He was in ABQ covering a trial for me, because I still thought my cat would be coming home with me that day, and require care).

Later, when home, my landlady asks me how I’m doing. I reply, horrible, but I’ll make it through. She is surprised by this answer, and comes over and she wants to talk about what happened to cause Apricot’s injury. She continues to speculate. I become more uncomfortable.

This is not something I want to discuss. She says, we can take a walk and look for the collar. I tell her, maybe in a few days, but I’m not ready for that.

We talk about a dog she had, beat up by other dogs. She footed the $900 in 1998 dollars vet bill. The dog got beat up again, and died.

I reply, thinking and hearkening back to my conversation with my dad about how much I was willing to spend on the cat to save her. I say, and mean, I would have been happy to spend $10,000 if she had just lived. I had told my father, around 10k was my breaking point.

This is the truth, and as I say it, I begin to lose it again. She tries to comfort me, puts a hand on my shoulder. I pat her shoulder in return. It’s the only thing I can think to do.

(I’m not particularly into being touched by people whom I do not consider to be close to me).

I think, now, a lot about the nature of bawling, crying, sobbing and tears. It is not something I do often. Once in awhile, a movie will make me shed a few tears. But full-on sobbing, that’s reserved for death or the possibility of.

I’ve lived a sheltered life, and a lucky, life. I might deal with death professionally, but I rarely must (as of yet) deal with death in my personal life.

When I received the call from my dad (I was living in Reno at the time, finishing up my degree, or maybe I’d already gotten it) that my cat, the one I left behind with him in Carson City, had been run over (and consequently she might die) I bawled my eyes out. (She lived). As I remember, I bawled pretty steadily. At 18, she’s going slowly, but steady. She cant jump well any more, but, she can still walk.

Now, for Apricot, the bawling comes in fits and spurts. Really, the bawling was limited to once I got home from work, after I’d got the call. Now, it’s the sporadic sobs.

Really, though, I’ll expand on that later. I’ll claim it’s all part of the grieving process.

When I got her cardboard box out of the car, I set it on one of the chairs I leave outside, while I went and dug her grave.

Thinking about it, I don’t think the disbelief has yet left me.

At the end here, I will include a picture of my dearly departed pussy cat. I put it at the bottom because I reduce the physical affectations to the bare minimum.  In doing so, though, I think about how I did not take enough pictures of her. I always thought, there would be time to take more. I was wrong.

It seems like a metaphor for everything.

I didn’t take enough pictures because I thought there was always more time. I was wrong.

Here’s to you sweetheart. I miss you.

Apricot 5 Small

In both shots, Apricot lies on the blanket I buried her in. This picture, in particular, hits me hard for two reasons. The first, she is lying in her splayed-turkey position, one of her favorites. The second, and more important, I see her as she was, and as I let her down. I feel guilty for allowing her to come to what would be her death.


Apricot 2 Small

Apricot’s grave

Santa Fe, NM — I already wrote about the actual driving from Reno to Santa Fe. It wasn’t particularly hard and my friend’s parents were gracious enough to host me for a night so I could make the trip in two days.

I’m always hesitant to write about my life, about the personal, about the “I.” No, I’m not hesitant. That’s some word-mincing. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of exposing myself, I’m afraid of exposing bias or some vulnerability or something I didn’t think would be a weakness but, in fact, is. Among other things, I’m always afraid (read: paranoid) something personal I write will then be used against me.

The truth shall set you free, that’s said, right? I don’t believe it, but I can want to believe in it.

I started on July 9, 2013 as the cops and courts reporter at the Rio Grande Sun, a weekly newspaper featured in a documentary I have yet to see.


Note: This post originally ran on my blog from many years ago, I posted to and updated it during some of my tenure as an au pair in Dresden, Germany.

Part 1

Feb. 13, 2010

The trams had stopped running well before the city proper of Dresden started. Our tram conductor instructed everyone to get onto the awaiting bus to get us further in. Many of the occupants, seemingly normal Dresdners, ran the length of the tram, avoiding ice, jumped off the platform, climbed up the other side and into the bus. Most riders calmly walked.

The bus driver dropped us at the beginning of the meaty part of town and I walked, along with many other riders and various citizenry, down to the Neustadt. It was mid-afternoon and not yet hatefully cold.

The sky was overcast. Not a dramatic, steel-gray or gunmetal black. Rather, a slightly depressing every-day grey that one comes t expect after having lived through a winter or two in Dresden. It would have been seven in the morning or 3 in the afternoon or even the cusp of darkness. The sky offered no clues.

Soon after we’d started walking I saw the first sign. A tram, one of Dresden’s modern yellow-orange caterpillars, the feet concealed underneath its skirting, sitting on its tracks in the middle of the road, its driver missing. I kept on walking until I hit the first roadblock, blocked by police officers and military-grade police transports. I saw smoke coming up from behind the blockade and managed to get a look: a trash bin, its contents, a pallet and some kind of wooden thing with wheels had been set ablaze and were still burning, throwing up plumes of foul black smoke.

I took the side street with all the other spectators, walked for a block before having to turn left again because the APCs and cops were blocking the way. Yet again, behind them, laid burning trash. A helicopter hovered overhead – just hovering, adding the sound of its blades to the music, from somewhere far off and the sounds of our footfalls in the crisp air.

The police were not just the normal beat cops. Rather, almost all of the police were decked out in riot gear of one form or another, with dark blue uniforms, forest green uniforms. Police from Dresden and police from elsewhere.

A few of the punks, dressed in customary thin black hoodies and suspiciously tight black pants walked by with beers in hand. In Germany, the normal bottle of beer is a half liter, but looks just like its smaller American counterparts, when not placed next to a smaller bottle. And normal people, men in tweed suits, women in thick jackets and teenagers bundled against the cold walked by, all with open years. Even one man who’d shaken his beer before, the foam bubbling out the top.

Alcohol is allowed to be consumed on the streets in Germany, there are no open container laws. Which is nice but adds a surreal sense of party to the streets closed by heavily-armored police, filled with nothing but burning trash and snow. And the music playing from somewhere, as the folks walk around with their beers.

Neustadt literally means “New City” and is filled to the brim with bars, pubs, dives and clubs. During Bunten Republik Neustadt (BRN – a play on Bundesrepublik Neustadt – The free state of) the streets fill with people, over the brim. A crushing, congested crowd, carried by whims of movement. It becomes a literal fight to walk, with a solid stream of people, all pushed up against one another heading down the street like traffic.

The party comes to a head during BRN and keeps on during the summer months. When its warm in Neustadt, the people take to the streets or the Biergartens.

The streets are filled with alcohol, little containers seemingly in every hand. During BRN, restrictions exist on glass bottles but the rest of the time, they’re perfectly legal. However, this is not a judgment on street drinking. As Major Colvin, a police officer in HBO’s crime series The Wire, tells his troops: “the corner is, was and always will be the poor man’s lounge”

As I said, alcohol is perfectly legal and normal on the street. Usually, there are no more problems than I’ve seen in the US with our open container laws. The folks do not run down the street, screaming bloody murder. Nor do broken glass bottles litter the sidewalk. Sometimes a broken sekt bottle lays strewn across the street but it is not overly-common, probably because of the deposit on glass (and plastic) bottles (called a pfand.) When the (beer) bottle is returned, empty, to a store the buyer gets his money back. Instead of seeing men with large tarps-turned-bags on their backs, searching through the trash for aluminum cans we see people with bags looking for beer bottles with a pfand.

Despite the lax rules on alcohol consumption and its all-night availability, (specialty night liquor stores stay open during the wee hours and various food joints, usually doner and sometimes wurst carts, stay on the streets serving food and alcohol until the morning) the Neustadt is usually pretty calm and safe. I feel safer, most of the time, in Neustadt at night than I ever did in Reno at night.

But it wasn’t the least bit warm as I walked and I found myself taking few notes, possibly due to cold fingers. And not many of the people seemed happy. Although there were a few people in the streets, it was sparse enough, with more than enough APCs and fully-armed, fully-outfitted police, to give me apocalypse-movie ideas (zombies, nuclear war/fallout zone.)

I kept on trying to make my way down town, having to redirect every few blocks to get around sealed off streets. Every time I caught a glimpse of the main street, I saw tram after tram, big yellow caterpillars stranded in the middle of the street.

When I got to Albertplatz, a roundabout/tram interchange near the end of the Neustadt, I made my way around left-screaming protestors, waving flags and chanting and listening to a speaker talk passionately about something.

I saw the main road leading to the Bahnhof Neustadt, cordoned off with fences, police and APCs. This trifecta was becoming a common theme. I should clarify though: I don’t mean a few police officers here and there. I mean, a veritable wall of blue, green and dark green.

I asked a police officer if there was some way I could get through to the train station; I said (truthfully) I wanted to see a friend of mine off. She was an au pair like me but unlike me she had to go back to her country. She was taking a bus back to Ukraine – she’d bought/accumulated too much stuff to bring on a plane. And the bus was going to leave from the train station.

The officer directed me down a side street, saying the way was open further down. He was wrong but I managed to get through.

I met Nadja in my second German course. She was an easily excitable, big, Ukrainian girl, not yet an adult with all the accoutrements but not no longer a teenager. She, as I, was working as an au pair with a German family. Unlike me, she had a relatively horrible family and children. She confessed to us, the Volkshochschule group, (long after the course had finished,) that she still spoke to her guest-parents in the formal tense of German, which is the same as the third person plural, “they.”

Nadja is a Ukrainian. I’d like to keep from making stereotypes or generalizations about a large group of people, but Nadja epitomized Ukrainian women to us. She was loud, in a boisterous kind of way. She was big, in a matriarch kind of way. She opened beer bottles with her teeth, in a Ukrainian kind of way.

Nadja was half my reason for going to the train station. I, along with our old teacher and a classmate, wanted to see her off. We weren’t sure of the next time we would see her, if at all.

The other half of my down-town-adventure reasoning was that I’d asked to cover the protests for the University’s newspaper, the Universitätsjournal. I didn’t even know the Nazis were corralled in the Neustadt train station – when I asked a police officer of how I could get there, to see Nadja off, he said this would be hard to do, but to ask the police at the barrier. I then asked which protestors were stamping their feet and yelling and clapping and waving flags in the middle of the street in Albertplatz. The counter-protesters, he said. And the Nazis? At the Hauptbahnhof, the main train station.

Note: This post originally ran on my blog from many years ago, I posted to and updated it during some of my tenure as an au pair in Dresden, Germany.

Break out the glühwein.

Doesn’t that look like a great place to have a glühwein?

In America, we’re missing a bunch of things. And when I write that, please don’t take it the wrong way. I don’t mean it in a combative way, nor do I mean it to say my love for America has decreased any. (Notice: my cultural difference shows when I state that my love, love being the key, for my country has not decreased)

I mean it to say that we’re missing things. Often times it’s not just that we don’t have the culture of glühwein drinking or sekt drinking. It’s that we don’t have the culture of doing it and we don’t have the words. We have our own words and ours are inferior. By far.

For glühwein we say “mulled wine” or “hot mulled wine” It doesn’t do it. It doesn’t carry the connotations of steaming into the cold air, of being held tightly by gloved hands as a measure against the cold. It doesn’t look good on large heating/serving containers for vendors.
It doesn’t work.

Sekt is sparkling wine. But sekt is good, sekt is worth drinking. Sparkling wine seems childish and a improper substitute for champagne. Which sekt is not. Because it’s a matter of nomenclature and the Germans have it right and have some better drinks as a result.

I say to you, freezing in the cold on the slopes, freezing in the cold watching your kids game, freezing in the cold at some event, at some (god-awful) outdoors party, at some thing, think of glühwein. It’s wonderful.
And think that it takes all of us, together, to bring glühwein and sekt into our culture, to properly propagate them. Because they’re worth it. They really are.

Both images taken during my ski trip with the family in the alps

Note: This post was originally supposed to run on my blog from many years ago, I posted to and updated it during some of my tenure as an au pair in Dresden, Germany. This particular post was in the drafts folder, but appeared completed.

It’s always important to take a step back and look. To look at one’s self, to look at one’s country, to look at one’s culture, one’s taboos, one’s stereotypes, one’s reference frame. A few people living outside of their mother country (not necessarily where one’s born) may nod in agreement at the previous sentence. Because it’s oft true.

It’s also nice, sometimes horrible, to see what other people think of one’s mother culture. Oft it’s horrible to see how stubbornly misinformed some people can be. Bavarian guy on my plane from Paris to Germany? That’s you. Berliner boy I traveled with for two weeks during my summer vacation? That’s you.

But, to hit a mean streak: stubbornly misinformed is not harsh enough. It’s not negative enough. It does not carry the correct connotation, even though the denotation may be correct. (Amazing how complex language can be.)

Hatefully misinformed? Hatefully ignorant? Rudely stupid? Hatefuly stupid? I lack the term to properly describe these people. These people refuse to understand, to listen, to be cleared up. They prefer to not just tell you you’re wrong but to tell you you’re wrong and they know better and they know your own country better than you even though they’ve only been there for a maximum of three months and have never studied anything over it. These people exist. I swear. And they’re horrible. They make bile invade the throats of anyone unfortunate enough to hear.
Wirklich. (really) (Yes, I’m one of those who uses a word now or again in another language, in this case German. But, when another language shares the responsibility of one’s dreams and thinking, the game changes.)

But that’s not the reason I wanted to write. Nor did I want to write over my kiddo’s temper tantrum today (and as of late) or our big conversation over him being a big boy now and throwing it back in my face. No, I wanted to write over a worksheet my kiddo’s English teacher gave to him, which I corrected (the teacher has at points terrible English) and asked the kiddo to give back to the teacher.

The kiddo said the teacher gave it back to him (the kiddo) and said I was wrong.

But I wasn’t. So, I not only lost respect for his teacher but also (see that? I can use pseudo-complex English!) tasted a bit of how the German language system, manned by Germans teaching foreign languages, can work.

That’s not to say our system is better. Because inevitably a German gets angry when I write that sentence. It is to say: having a majority of teachers in higher level classes that aren’t native speakers is profoundly detrimental (Think you know that word, Mr. German English teacher? I don’t think you do. Because I’m spiteful.) to the education of the children. If he can’t take the time to learn the difference between usage of who and whom (I know many native English speakers don’t but they’re not also English teachers) while coming from a language that has three cases, then, I don’t think he should be teaching. I think another mistake, shortly outlined below, further discredits the teach. Plus, the teach uses German diction when writing. In English, we have things, we go on things or we do things. We very rarely “make” things.

Thank you very much.

Whose car was broken in the holidays (what did he/she do after that?)

Maybe the teach is just a bad writer. But I don’t beleive it. I beleive in incompitence in English.

Broken has to uses: broken into, aka, someone tried to steal things out of the car or steal the car outright.

To break down is yet another meaning entirely, it means the car no longer functions. Or, it ceased to functiona and continues to not go.

But, to write, “was broken” confuses both meanings. It has a connotation of broken in, aka, “My car was broken into while I was on vacation in Japan”

The other meaning is the car broke before vacation and continued to be broken during the entire period of summer break.

However, I beleive the teacher meant “Whose car broke down during vacation?”

Really, people, really.

Who did a bike tour? (with who?, where, how long?)”

Really teacher? Really? Please. Who went on a bike tour. Who took a bike tour. Who rocked a bike tour.

Now, “with who?” What, were you raised in a barn? Did you never learn English? I know it’s an easy language but to not even see the simple difference between who and whom, that’s just lazy! So much like foreigners who conjugate all verbs in the infinitive (hint: English isn’t very conjugation heavy. Our most is for third person singular. Often times lazy people, my guest child included, try to conjugate the verb in infinitve/second/third person plural/plural first/first person.) With whom because you’re the one who went on the bike tour. You’re doing the action. Who does the action. Whom is the object.

Note: This post originally ran on my blog from many years ago, I posted to and updated it during some of my tenure as an au pair in Dresden, Germany.

I thought I’d post that picture, of one of the Communist statues in the post-Soviet statue park, outside of Budapest. Seen during my first visit to Budapest.

To the potatoes: Ferdinand degenerated during the latter-half of the day, after the parents had left (a little past 7) to go to a birthday party. We fought a little, I thought everything was OK. I asked him to start working on cleaning his room while I got ready to make a little something for dinner.
I came in and started working on cleaning his room, while he just sat there and moped. He had done very little whilst I was in the other room and had said he was done — not that he was put-a-fork-in done but rather he’d completed his work.
He seemed to sour before my eyes. I think this happened:
He formed an idea in his head, started repeating it and then started believing it, until he fully did. He told me he was upset because he’d thought he’d got to do NO fun things the entire day — that the whole day was consumed by un-fun things. He then proceeded to sulk and was pissy for the rest of the night. I think he even tried a mini hunger strike. He refused to eat more than one egg for dinner.
He proceeded to not talk to me for the rest of the night, at his dinner alone in his room, read in the room. I cooked dinner for myself, went upstairs and listened to Talk of the Nation. He came up around 8:10 and started to watch TV, not uttering a word to me. At nine, I asked him to go brush his teeth and get ready for bed. He turned off the TV, threw the remote down onto the chair and stomped down the stairs. He slammed the bathroom door. He came out after awhile (I was washing dishes) and slammed his door.
One should know: we’d play-fought for quite a bit, he’d talked with his mom and otherwise not done too many productive things for a large part of the day (he came home at 2:45 or so.) It was a huge struggle to get him to unpack and repack his backpack and he took a long, luxurious bath once he got home from soccer practice, at about 6:45.

Life is tough, isn’t it?

I really think he worked himself into a froth. I think he wanted to be pissy and angry and frothed.

As William Goldman wrote for the Princess Bride movie:

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

To round it out, a picture of a house in Denmark. From the sailing trip with the Kretzschmar family.