For Maestro

The problem with having two homes is that you are always leaving something behind. The worst is close to the time of departure, when all that fills your head is what you are losing. Even when you know you are going to a good place and even when you know you are coming back.

San Diego has always been my home and always will be. I don’t think a move to any other place can be called ‘permanent.’ I don’t expect to live any one place in particular for the rest of my life. Because I don’t want things to always be the same. I want to grow and have new experiences. For now there is no one place that will keep its hold on me.

However, I keep my link to San Diego because I have so few constants in my life. But in San Diego I have some semblance of a family and a place I am always welcome and safe. I can go out into the world knowing I have a haven to return to. Its like what your mom is supposed to be when you are a toddler. The house that can store my stuff and my dad will be there and I can always go to water polo because I am always welcome there to be and to play.

There is one link that has been lost however, and that is my link to Maestro. He was a most unusual and extraordinary cat mostly because he didn’t act as a cat would. He wasn’t interested in playing, or in being cuddled, and his favorite place to hang out was right in the thick of things.

More important than that, however, was how much he held our family together. Each one of us bonded to him in our own way because of his uniqueness. Our love for him is one of the few things that our entire family shares and agrees upon. We all mourn his passing, even my mother.

Maestro helped each one of us just through his calm and constant presence. He made us smile whenever we spotted him lounging around the house. And his contented purr made us feel useful and wanted as our stroking brought about his happiness. And whenever we would call his name he would meow at us, signifying that he understood and wanted us to know he loved us too. The hardest moment came when I walked into the kitchen and called his name and received no response. No meow, no slight movement of his tail to show his delight at our return. Even before I made it over to him I knew he was dead. I had never realized how integral this response was to our relationship. How much it signified. How much I looked forward to it. And how I knew nothing could be too bad if he still responded. And in that moment I knew he was gone, that my friend had moved on to the next life. There was no reaction. That was it.

I knew it was coming so I was prepared for it but it didn’t make me any less sad. Maestro had been there for me when no one else was. He could always lighten my mood no matter how dark. I will always cherish the times he came to visit me in my room or came and sat on my lap. In those moments, I was no longer a scared little child adrift in space. I had something tying me here. Someone who enjoyed my presence just as I enjoyed his.

His time had come, and that was obvious to see. He had lived 15 good, long years and when he took sick, it was only age catching up with him. We could have chosen to perform surgery and chemo and to extend his life as long as possible. But that would only make things easier for us and more painful to him.

Instead, we decided to allow him to go naturally. To let nature take its course and not interfere. Unless he was in serious pain, it seemed right to let him survive as long as he was meant to, in the place he called home and surrounded by the people who loved him.

That last night I spent sleeping next to him downstairs. He hadn’t been able to walk the day before and I knew it was just a matter of time. I couldn’t leave him alone for all those hours in that large, empty room. I wanted him to know how much I cared and how much I appreciated all that he had done for me and my family. I wanted him to go knowing how much he helped. I wanted to send him along with all the love I could muster.

I think Maestro knew that it was his time. He had done his duty to our family and he was no longer required to help us all through rough times. My brother and I are finally growing up and even my dad has become stronger. Maestro had done us all a great service and he deserved his final rest. He was so giving and so caring that I can only imagine that his next life will be even better. There is nothing greater than what he did for us all.

When my brother was struggling, when I knew that it was a crucial time in his life, a crossroads, I saw Maestro supporting Clinton. Maestro has never been a lap cat but he would sit in my brother’s lap for hours on end while he played computer games. My poor brother was all alone after being hurt the rest of the time and I took great happiness from the fact that at least Maestro was there. And when my brother first went to rehab, it was Maestro he asked about and Maestro he was worried about. It was Maestro that he was connected to, and through him, to life.

And after his years of dedication to my brother and I, Maestro was there for my dad. When the rest of the family deserted him and left the house, Maestro was still there keeping tabs on him. He would accompany my dad around the house, sleeping in his bed with him and sitting on the arm of any chair my dad sat in. Maestro taught my dad to love and to connect. Through Maestro’s dedication, my dad learned what constant love was like and he learned that others appreciate his love through every time Maestro purred because of my dad’s attention.

And though my dad has been poor at taking care of other animals, he made sure Maestro was cared for. He continued to try to get Maestro to eat even when he kept refusing food. He was willing to be attentive to Maestro’s needs and to give of himself. I’ve never heard my dad seem so scared as when he thought Maestro was dying after having his teeth taken out. And I knew my dad was sad, but it said everything that my dad was able to cry when we buried Maestro.

Those last few days were hard on all of us, but I think Maestro was waiting for my brother and I to get home. He knew that we would want to say goodbye and I think he wanted to see us one last time, to see how we’d grown.

It was wonderful to have Maestro for one last Christmas even though he was skin and bones and getting skinnier by the day. Though his eyes were becoming glassy and dull, up until the end he would still purr and respond to our calls.

When he died, I sat on the ground and gave him one last, final pat, feeling the softness of his fur, the touch that had calmed me and soothed me. I took a last opportunity to look at my favorites of Maestro’s markings. His striped head and one patch of black fur near his pad. The side of his ear with the white stripe running down and the white line across his back. I ran my hands down his sides and pulled his barley-visibly-stripped tail just as I had done all those other times. I had to say goodbye.

My dad and I placed him in a cardboard box. I wished we had something more fancy, but I realized that up until that point I never understood the desire to place a dead body in a fancy casket. Maestro fit perfectly when he was lying curled in a ball as he commonly did on all chairs in the house. I couldn’t close his eyes or his mouth, so I placed his paw over his face, a position of his I always found incredibly endearing.

We dug a hole in the backyard near a tree Maestro liked. He has always been an indoor cat except for the few times he escaped, but only until feeding time. Those last few days were the only nice ones in two weeks of rain. Maestro expressed his desire to go outside, so we took turns watching him and keeping him company. He was able to spend part of his last few days outside, in the sunshine and the greenery.

            There was one spot in particular my brother said Maestro loved, and there we dug the hole. My dad and I took turns until it was deep enough. I realized that we couldn’t bury him without incense. The incense would be an offering to him and his life, a way to send him off, and a way to find closure.

            After multiple phone calls my dad and I headed off to Pacific Beach and returned home with sandalwood incense. It was finally time. We took the box and Maestro out to the hole. I knelt down to place the box at the bottom. I took one last look and said goodbye. I held the box closed as my dad shoveled the first bit of dirt.

            We took turns filling the hole as we both felt that the work was a symbol of our love. Finally, it was finished. I called my brother on his cell so he could be a part of the final ceremony even though he had to be physically somewhere else.

            I placed three rocks we had dug up to use as a marker. We lit the incense and I stuck it in the dirt over the three rocks. Then we said our final words. I read a general piece my brother wrote expressing our happiness to have had him in our lives. Then we each took turns addressing him, telling him what meant the most to us. And then we said our final goodbye.

            Maestro has outlived any other pet we have owned. We felt those losses too, but Maestro’s is much deeper as he was more integral to the family. Maestro lived up to his namesake as he orchestrated the family.

            Kaito loved him like her own puppy and the little kitty looked up to him. Even Sedona and Nova know the hierarchy of the house and that Maestro stands above them all. He was much more than a cat that even Oreo would ignore him when you tried to rile her up by yelling ‘cat.’

            And silliest of all is his name itself. A cat named Maestro that is called ‘mice’ for short. His nickname has morphed many times between my brother and I. One nickname even became the basis for a story about him and Stonehenge. He has always been my rock and my muse.

            Maestro will live on forever in my heart. His presence, his love, his being have become so much a part of me over the years that to lose him would be to lose a piece of myself. The photos I have of him will always bring a smile to my face. And anytime I think back on the past, I will know that he gave me an edge without which I might not have survived. Even after his death, his legacy still lives on. He will connect me to my mother through our silly animal-speech. And how could we forget the time he ran up the stairs past my mom and flattened himself like a carpet? Or the children’s stories we were going to tell about his spider patrols?

            Maestro captured our hearts and the hearts of anyone who met him. Even those allergic to cats or afraid of cats like Dora loved him as much as we did. He had more charm while stretched out on the floor gazing at you with his big blue eyes than any animal I have ever met.

            My memories of Maestro range far and wide. I can not remember them all now, but I am sure that when I need them, those memories will be just like the day they happened. And I will be reminded of the lessons I learned as a child.

            I am moving on and growing up just as Maestro has moved on. It is now my turn to carry his compassion into the world. He is one less tie holding me to my childhood but one step in the direction of my eventual adulthood. The end of summer was a time of change, a time of accomplishing three important tasks. And now, at the end of winter break, I am giving up at least two things from my childhood.

            Both were painful and sad at the time but already my life is showing the fruits of that struggle. Leaving is like saying goodbye to an old part of myself. And while it means things will be better, there is always fear at the moment of change. I could stay, but I would flounder.

            Instead I will go, I will say goodbye and I will say see you soon. I will spread my proverbial wings and try to fly. And the next time I come back I will be a different, but a stronger healthier being.

This change will not only affect me directly but will affect my relationships will all beings. I can become more open and therefore more understood. I can open myself to the love of others, knowing that it will be worth it in the end. And I will remember that goodbyes are not all bad. I am only closing one chapter and opening another. The fundamental aspects have not changed but the opportunity for a new adventure begins. And while my heart is still heavy with sadness and beating with fear, I will know that there is much good to be found in the world if you know where to look. And that no one can be gone forever. And I can thank Maestro for that.

Goodbye, my friend

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