The Fox at Dawn


12.13.19 In Remembrance of Dashiel
December 13, 2019, 8:10 am
Filed under: Art of the Day, memory memorabilia re-membering | Tags: , ,
It’s a terrible drawing, but I haven’t the heart to work on it.

It’s been pressing on me a month now. The loss of this sweet soul. Life barrels on, this last month especially, but he is never far from my mind. I came home late afternoon that Monday and opened the patio door to the cats as always, only there were only two. Oh no, I said out loud. I remember saying that out loud, I remember feeling my heart sink. I gave my Dashiel call, watching for him to fly down the hill as he always did, but there was nothing. I fed the others, walked the dogs in the darkness, calling and looking, calling and looking. I felt pulled towards the neighbor’s large yard, kept feeling like I was just on the edge of hearing Dash’s little voice. I strained to hear it. Nothing. The weather was turning awful, the temperature was plummeting, the rain was turning to ice and snow. Around the neighbor I went, calling. Front and back of the house. I went out again in my bathrobe, calling. I set out boxes with blankets in them in case Dashiel came to the door in the middle of the night and needed to keep warm. Several times through the night I got up and checked- was he there? Not in the night, not in the morning, not when I snuck home from school during my planning period so I could look in the daylight, not when I got home from school. Still I felt drawn to the neighbor’s large yard, thought I heard Dash calling from there. I texted my neighbor and sent him a picture, asking if he had seen him. The neighbor called right away. He was sorry, oh so sorry. He didn’t know it was my cat. Early in the morning on that Monday, my neighbor found Dash lying dead in the middle of their yard, being sniffed by their massive dog Tiny, a Great Pyrenees. Not mauled, just dead. My neighbor had one of his workers take the body out to their farm to be buried, he said. He didn’t know it was my cat. Dash had shed the collar I tried to make him wear. My neighbor was so very sorry.

Dash came to us, my daughter and I, in the early summer of 2017. I had just finished another bruising, punishing school year teaching theater in a school that used people up. It was a dreadful year for reasons both personal and national. I prayed and meditated for change within and without and it came in the form of a new place to teach, a place that I cherish. I needed to do some healing that summer. I needed rest and recharging and remembering who I was. I needed to get ready for a new incarnation.  But the summer took a couple of turns. The first turn came when my friend Connie called and asked if I would consider fostering three kittens that she didn’t have room for but who urgently needed a home. I knew of one them already- a black kitten that other friends had seen being tossed out the window of a moving car in front of their house. My friends fished it out of the bushes where it had run to hide, but they couldn’t keep it because they were leaving on an extended road trip the very next day.  So they called our mutual friend Connie, the animal rescue saint who works with the Shamrock Foundation to find homes for dogs and cats.  The other two kittens were brothers, lured out of a derelict empty house in the Portland neighborhood. They were quite young and appeared to be all alone. Connie’s ark was full, over full I have no doubt, so she called me. How can anyone say no to kittens?

            

            I love naming things. It’s a compulsion, an act of creation or more accurately, of recognition. Clearly the kitten tossed from the window of  the car barreling down Story Avenue needed to be called Story.  He certainly had one. Sleek, black, three to four weeks older than the brothers, Story was loving from the start. The brothers looked nothing alike, but they held their heads exactly the same when listening to interesting sounds. One brother was black with tiny flecks of light hairs, short haired and the smallest of all of them, the most timid too. He was called Speck. The last was our dearest boy. Fluffy, gray and taupe tabby markings, I suspected he would turn out to be a long haired cat. He was the one who pioneered hiding up inside the box springs of my daughter’s bed, to her horror. He was the one who darted to the door first when I came through to feed them. He was called Dash, short for Dashiel. 

            The kittens lived in J’s room until the stink from their litter box proved too powerful for her super smeller nose. They were moved to the TV room, shut away from the dogs and the other cats, who were none too pleased at this unpleasant development. And then the kittens were moved to my room (further alarming the resident cats) when the summer took its second, even stranger turn. Amos, a neighbor whose family I only knew casually from small talks in front of their apartment when I walked my dogs, came to talk to me, begging for immediate help. He and his family were being forced out of their apartment by a landlord who no longer wished to deal with them. People from his church were helping to secure another apartment for them, but it wasn’t ready yet. He showed me a worn manila file folder full of letters, receipts, contracts. He, his wife Patricia and their five year old daughter are from Nigeria and had only been in this country a short time. Amos is enrolled at the Southern Baptist Seminary, an institution I admittedly respect very little. His dream is to return to Nigeria in an evangelical capacity to bring the word and also community planning and stability to rural areas where there is so much turmoil and suffering. They live very modestly, unable to work much on student visas. They are supported by their meager savings and by the generosity of the church they joined in the US, their sponsors. Amos came to me to ask for shelter, a place to live until this new apartment was ready in a few days. My head swirled, the ground tilted, of course I said yes, how could I do otherwise? Still, I installed a lock on my daughter’s bedroom door, more to keep little Precious from being too much in there than from any other danger, but better safe.  Amos and his family moved into the TV room and the kittens moved to my room.

            It was only to have been for three days or so but it stretched into six weeks. This is a whole story unto itself, needing its own time and space in the telling of it. In short, the family slowly took over the house- the downstairs bathroom that had been my daughter’s was now theirs, the kitchen became Patricia’s domain, the house was permeated by the smells of the oily fish and meat stews she made which turned my vegetarian stomach, but hardest was the daily witnessing of the parenting philosophy at work on Precious who was never played with, never read to, never cuddled. There were a lot of tears.  My daughter and I both did what we could to help Precious, and it seemed that her parents were relieved for us to play the role of her caregiver, but again, that is another story.  We ceded ground. My daughter retreated to her room and then her friend’s houses and then went on their family vacations with them. I retreated to my room upstairs, eating there, spending time with the kittens. I shuttled them to their vet appointments, the Snip Clinic, played with them, fed them, slept with them. Dashiel fell in love with Mr. Darcy, the dog rescued by Connie who found a home with us in 2011. And Mr. D loved him back. I found homes for Speck and Story- Story went to the friends who rescued him in the first place and Speck went to a friend I had taught with. But I knew I could not be parted from Dashiel. 

            What was it about him that made it unthinkable to give him up? Perhaps it was his own insistence that he belonged. This was his home and we were his tribe. From the beginning, Dashiell adored Mr. Darcy, another refugee from Portland. While the other cats shied away from the dogs, Dash ran to them, especially Darcy. Dash would climb into the dog bed and knead Darcy’s stomach as Darcy looked up to me helplessly- What do I do about this? He bore it patiently. Over and over, Dashiel curled up and slept with him, tucked into Darcy’s curves. 

            Story went to his new home, Speck too and eventually Amos and his family left for their long awaited apartment, finally ready. Dashiel remained, expanded his domain to the whole house. Is there anything more delightful than a kitten exploring their world? It is a gift the young give the old- the chance to remember what a miracle the world really is, the chance to remember joy and feel it again.

            Looking back I was always worried and fearful for him. Always it seemed he needed extra protection. He had a couple of viruses that required emergency trips to the vet- he sneezed, he ran fevers, he was lethargic. Then he was suddenly limping, his back end giving him trouble- had he fallen down the basement stairs? No one knew. Then he rebounded. I tried hard to keep him an indoor cat and succeeded for over a year. Dashiel always charged towards any life in the house. He tried to play with the older cats, ambushed them, ambushed the dogs, ambushed us, played with Darcy, tried to engage Johnny, our other dog. The other cats, who go freely in and outside, bore him no love. Piper Rose would have none of it and required a private place in which to eat her meals. But Henry gave in and accepted Dash as a playmate. So when Henry went out, and there is no keeping Henry in, Dashiel would try to go too. I did my best to block him, retrieving him when I wasn’t quick enough. Eventually I lost the battle. He went in and out with the others. Such joy was his! He quickly proved his prowess as a hunter and as an explorer. He did what the other two cats never managed- he found a way to get on the roof and reenter the house through second story windows. And when I had to set a live trap in the attic to catch the possums and raccoons coming in through a hole under the eaves, he managed to find that same hole, get in and get himself trapped, baited by his own cat food.  Oh how that made me laugh.

            He grew into a grand cat with the softest fur I ever felt, so lush and long. He spent a good deal of time grooming. He was fastidious, unlike his adopted brother Henry who really can’t be bothered. Henry wears a collar and tag that reads “I really do have a home” lest some well-meaning person takes him in when he’s out on one of his gallivants, thinking him some poor lost soul. Dash, in contrast, was a dandy through and through. His tail! As grand as a snow leopard’s, he carried it high, his proud flag of dandyism. He slept always on the bottom right corner of my bed on the folded Billy Bragg quilt, and it was a special joy to me to come into the bedroom to find him already there, his front legs stretched far out in front of him, one crossed over the other, as he was want to do.  What a prince.  He graciously let me stroke and kiss him, breathe in the smell of his fur.

One night he didn’t come back in from the outside and wasn’t there for breakfast in the morning. I had to go to work, but J found him later in the morning hiding under the chest of drawers outside the art room door. She texted me he was fine. But he was not fine. He could barely walk. He huddled under a piece of furniture in my office. He wouldn’t eat. Nothing seemed to be broken but his back end seemed to cause him pain. He had little pieces of bark in his fur. Had he fallen from a tree? Been clipped by a car? Had he been roughed up by a dog? I fed him broth and soupy wet food through an eye dropper. I watched his temperature. After a couple of days he was eating on his own, starting to move around. When he used the litter box I rejoiced. He got better daily. He showed little interest in going outside, until he recovered himself and remembered what was out there.  And once again I couldn’t keep him in. 

I trained him to come in the house in the evening by feeding him the much coveted wet food that I used to only parse out at breakfast.  I would go out on the patio and call him in his special way, high pitched to carry up the hill ‘Dashy! Dashy!’- within seconds I’d here him crashing through the leaves as he flew, and I mean flew,  down the hill to the door. I have never had an animal come to me so quickly when called. He was a blur, a streak of cat. No matter how dreadful my day had been, that moment was pure joy- him racing down, me swooping him up to hug and kiss, carrying him in to dinner. Such joy. And now he’s gone.

I fed him breakfast that Monday morning along with the other cats, and when Henry went out, he made a dash for it too. He ran right over into the neighbors, climbed their fence and probably ran to the dog who was running toward him, believing that dog to be his friend. Minutes later I walked right by there with Mr. Darcy and Johnny. In the darkness I saw Tiny over in the middle of his yard bending down to sniff something with interest. He must have something very interesting, I thought to myself, if he is not running to the fence to bark at us as he always does.

Oh Dashiel. I’ve been laboring over this post, been turning it this way and that, over writing, over thinking, trying to get a handle on why the pain of losing you is so very sharp and why it shows no sign of letting up. I guess it’s because there has been much darkness these past few years, navigating financial stress, too many jobs, my daughter’s mental illness, intense loneliness and fear. And there you were, flying down the hill to meet me or waiting there on the end of my bed at the end of long days. You were such a light. It’s your joy I miss, your headlong youthful joy at living. I will be on the lookout for that joy. If I can just keep looking, I will find it again. That was your great gift to me, sweet boy. Thank you.


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

What an amazing animal friend you had in Dash, he was so fortunate to have had your love, too!

Comment by Gita Donovan

I’m so sorry, Lauren. What a beautiful tribute to a prince who left before his time.
I’m sitting here with Shakta and the Columbus class taking the exam. Much love….
Diane (Hari Datti)

Comment by Diane Hancock

Hello to Shakta and to you! Much love right back at you-

Comment by Loren Crawford

Loren,
This is such a poignant story of love and loss. I’m so sorry for what happened.

Comment by Jo




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