With the passage of time I gained some control over the inexplicable sensation of falling, the seemingly random opening of the earth beneath my feet. I had even begun to venture on to the golf course, one of the few places where I could successfully focus on something completely external. It was not unusual for me to have the course to myself, or at least a big chunk of it. I have never been part of a regular foursome and I like to play late in the day when others don't. At this time in my life that was handy because I was incapable of the small talk.The Sixth hole of my "Home" course is a par three with the tee shot over water to an uphill green. The lake is heart shaped, from the Southern tip by the tee to the North shore bordering the green it measures no more than hundred yards. Cattails line the Eastern shore, but it is the Northwest corner that had become one of my favorite places. A garden of Weeping Willows has sprung from a single ancestor claimed by the tornado that ravaged downtown Nashville and the East side years before. It was the home of a pair of Red Wing Blackbirds. They were loud and proud of their flowing green home and if I passed by without seeing them I felt lonely. One day I hit a flush 8 iron that landed just above the hole and rolled back to a nice up hill leave of about 10 feet. I was pleased with myself as I put my club back in the bag and turned to take one more look at the green to see if the ball had remained on the steeply banked lower portion of the green. A large black bird emerged from the willows flying straight for me. A moment later it was followed by the Redwings.
I had watched them defend their territory from threats large and small and real and imagined but never with such fury. They closed the gap in an instant, clutching, tearing at the crow. Screeching, I will carry to my grave the voice of their terror, and with it the image of their nestling in the crows beak, feathers half formed and sparse. It was alive and struggling. As they flew overhead my voice joined theirs. For a moment I was out of my body flying with them, twisting, diving, but, I fell behind. Then I was back within myself on my knees weeping without sound, impotent in my desire for violence, watching them fly over the trees and disappear in the valley beyond.
We buried Lewis under the Dogwood tree, which was a memorial to the Father of the family that lived here before us. He lies there with Simba, Fable, Fritz, and Sheen.
Omens are supposed to come before the peril. Their protection is in foreshadow, our ability to understand what we have seen and believe in what we see. Instead, I am given this cruel visage of the incarnation of my agony, too late to save myself. I have carried these images with me now for nearly a decade and thought perhaps too much about their meaning. Perhaps the omen was a warning about anger. Within my experience that day was crystalline fury. I wanted to kill, to kill for the killings sake. If I had been an angel I could have destroyed the entire world in the pursuit. I could have done it knowing the destruction of my beloved. I could have done it knowing the consequence, of the death of innocents. In that moment was the essence of Satan's fall.
To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail, and anger was my hammer. I was so wounded. I was so harmed, and I had this blunt weapon for protection. Anger keeps people away. It makes those that stay with you keep reacting to you, and thus channeled and predictable. For my soul, it was what I had to tear at the dark wall between all that could have been and all that has been taken from me.
* * *
It seemed that Lewis did not want to be a house cat. We had erected a bird bath in memorial to Simba a Siamese we had rescued from the hallways of the high rise we live in on 5th Ave in Downtown Nashville. Lewis came several times a day to drink. We noticed he had a problem with one of his eyes, but we could not get close to him. But as summer bloomed I started grilling out and the fragrance of roast chicken got his attention. He started getting closer and we noticed he had a hideous infection. It took weeks of gentle coaxing with bits of chicken and pork tenderloin to get him close enough to touch. It took another week to arrange our plan. We got him used to a morning treat and one day grabbed him. Stuffed him in our cat carrier and it was off to the Vet. They treated him. We needed to keep him inside for a couple of weeks however, and that was a difficult proposition. He was not happy with us. Apparently he was quite attached to a couple of things the Vet had removed, and took our imposition personally. One day I kneeled down to get a look at him under the table in our guest bedroom and he flew at me wrapped his front legs around my arm and using his claws to get a purchase sunk his teeth as deep into my flesh as he could manage.
After that we became the best of friends. We could not push him out the door. He was a "By God" house cat. He slept beside me. Just far enough down that my hand fit naturally on the nape of his neck where he liked to be scratched. We had 9 years together, we were tight. In some ways we still are.
Lewis developed a form of feline intestinal malady that made it difficult for him to digest his food. The end was hard, it took months. His suffering ended 49 years after the day I was born.
The Morning was dark grey windy rainy and Lewis could barely lift his head. He was stumbling. It was time to to take him to the Vet and end his suffering. We all went together. Rowena, Ella and I were with him when he passed. When we left the windowless room the Sun had come out. The rain was gone. The air was still and birds sang. Rowena and I noted the drastic change, but even when you know you had done everything possible to prolong life, and that going on was cruel, it was hard to accept such a poetic Technicolor transformation seemingly on cue.
We drove home in silence. When we got home the ritual of going through the heavy gate of the privacy fence as a family unit was made a little more difficult by my attempt to be reverential as I carried Lewis' remains in the cat carrier. As we closed the gate we were confronted by an huge black and yellow butterfly hovering in front of us. Time seemed to hang as he fluttered there. He then made two tight circles around us and confronted us again. He flew to the spot where Lewis had laid during our walks together, landed and lingered for a moment. He danced back into the air, passing through the fence and into the back yard. Then, he was gone.
As the Sun set Rowena and I took our accustomed in front of our lap tops across from one another at the dining room Table. The looking over the edge of monitors Rowena looked at me and said both our words in her voice. "The butterfly was Lewis come to tell us that everything is all right. He is no longer in pain. We don't have to be sad any more. We can go on."
As those Words floated in the air between us I went to the Nashville Humane Society's web site and on the first page was a picture of a 9 month old black tomcat named Lewis. The caption said that all he needed was a place where he could sit and look out the window of his new forever home. He is a very happy cat now. We are happy too and proud to claim another rescue pet for our family. As I write this he is laying beside me in his box on the table. We watch the sun come out in the world just beyond our window, together.
* * *
Ella and Rowena are laying in bed beside me. Sleep is not easy for in these days after Lewis' passing. The house is quiet and dark. As I close my eyes I am still awake when I find myself on a dirt road on a plain of wheat. Before me is the Pre Raphealite vision of two spirits. I know them. They have walked with me since I was very young. Sorrow is pale, her features diffused by a soft internal glow. Anger's skin also pale white but has chiseled dark eyes and raven hair. Sorrow's finger tips trace the wounds across my heart, Anger the ones across my eyes, the scars of our communion. They have come to say farewell. They will be near, but they will no longer lead me. They have been my guides since my fifteenth year, when my father in his long dying illness told me he believed I wanted him to die. It was the day my struggle against thoughts of nothingness began. As they turn and walk into the distance I feel barren. I feel lost. I begin down the road alone, but as the vision fades I feel the warmth of hands joining mine.
* * *
My child's life joins these images together. Her life may not have been possible at all without the miscarriage. Some doctors believe the cells from children lost in this way help heal their mothers. We had given up hope of having a child before this unborn spirit's passing. Ella's birth is a miracle. All life is. Life cannot be stopped, you can only join with it. Now I know I can protect her only as I protect myself and weapons like anger destroy those that wield them.
As a Parent my way through life will be fashioned in the way I treat and what I teach my child. My map of the world will be seen in the life our family. The clearest evidence of this was in Ella's efforts to console me about Lewis. Be prepared. Your child believes what you tell them and will continue to as long as you make your own words true. If your child tells you a departed soul has gone to a better place, you must know in your heart that that he lives now in paradise. If you teach her to love life and be open to all it has to offer you must be ready to open your heart to wonder. These lessons are no longer for your child's sake only, they are for your own.