Ten years ago today, the best being on two legs or four I’ve ever known was killed, on purpose, by a vicious human who could have no idea what his action would mean.
Most people don’t know what it meant, and won’t, regardless of what words I say: grief is private, unknowable, as is world-altering love, and where, why, how and with whom it happens.
Sometimes animals save each other, and become one being walking around in two bodies.
Sometimes humans aren’t the point.
Shalom changed the course of my life, and his murder changed it again.
I’m not going to tack on some platitude about how much joy Gilly has brought me, or how differently – probably better – I understand love and loss of all kinds since Shalom, though those two things and many others like them are true.
He’s dead. I’m not. And that’s the daily whole of it, for ten years now.
Shalom raised my cat Mandala Piranha Bacon, AKA “Peep” (and “Dragon,” and “Applehead”), along with Peep’s five siblings: I pulled their mother – a kitten herself – out of a Dumpster where she was making a birthing nest. She was tiny, and sick, and completely unprepared to do this thing.
Shalom worried himself to pieces over those kittens, doing his part to take care of them, washing and drying and teaching them when their mother didn’t want to, forgetting to eat or sleep and slow-walking into the kitten-room, nestling down in slow-mo lest any kittens get smooshed beneath his hundred pounds, and letting them quite literally swing from his ears as they sharpened their savage glee.
Peep was the firstborn, nearly crushed to death in his kitten-mother’s struggle to birth him. He had some nerve damage in the process, which gave him a side-to-side tremor in his neck which would have been a death-sentence in the wild: I nursed him specially, and held his head still multiple times a day so he could eat, and gently broke his loop when his tremor would lead him off into a walking-circle from which he couldn’t get free.
When the kittens reached ten weeks, I found homes for all the cats, but kept Mandala, so named to honor his spiraling. I didn’t know how he’d do, and had become so attached to him, as had Shalom.
As he grew, he grew out of it. He’d only wobble occasionally when he was very tired.
Shalom and Mandala worshiped each other. Peep viewed Shalom as his Mom, his role model, and his compadre in adventure, and Shalom never stopped watching over Peep with ceremony and sweetness.
When Shalom was killed, Mandala mourned and mourned, and worried about me, and started coming to the whistle I used to use to call Shalom, and brought me epic quantities of dead things as gifts and pleas, and started nursing in my hair again as he’d done when he was little.
Eventually, we piled a lot of new memories over the absence.
Gilly came. At first, neither Peep nor I could figure out how to be with this not-Shalom puppy. Gradually, we did. He brought the relentless glory of life, going on.
We remembered how to be happy. We loved each other. And every day for more than nine years with Peep, I saw Shalom, who’d raised him.
For the last two years, while I’ve been moving around a lot for teaching and writing gigs, Peep has been living at my sister’s house with his two brothers whom she adopted. I’ve missed him horribly, but the amount of moving-havoc in my life has been unkind for a cat, and he’s been having a good time taking care of his brothers.
On May 24, he went outside and was killed by a coyote.
Coyotes leave nothing to say goodbye to.
There are no platitudes for these losses.
There’s no comfort, either, really, except time.
There are just the familiars.
So loved. Gone.