Tag Archives: grief

UN MAR EN EL CIELO: IN MEMORY OF MY SOUL MATE

Photo source: http://www.banderanews.com

I’m hoping someone will find this, and I debated on whether to write this post in Spanish or English, but my Spanish isn’t what it once was and so English won out—even though it’s horribly awkward for me to tell this story in English as it occurred in Spanish, but here it goes: a glimpse into the best year of my life and the soul mate that I’ve lost forever.

Once upon a time, I lived in México.  After college and two stays in two cities, I left the States and returned to Puerto Vallarta, locally known as Vallarta, with no plans on ever returning.  That last time is when I really met the best friend I have ever had: Caguamo.  But Caguamo was so much more than a best friend.  His real name was Miguel Ángel Santos Nolasco, but everyone has un apodo, a nickname, in México and my best friend’s meant sea turtle.

The sea turtles of Vallarta.

Caguamo left school in junior high due to problems with a fellow student—I remember he pointed him out to me one day—and I suppose that’s when he headed to the beach to work. During all my time in México, almost all my friends worked on the beach, mainly in the parasailing business that’s so popular with tourists.

Paracaidas

The guys who worked on the beach had this ridiculously bad reputation, mainly because they lived an alternate lifestyle, surfed, listened to Reggae, were poor, and possibly drank as much cerveza as every other Mexican, but they were real and had their own view on life that was so different from the other locals I knew.  And so, it was with these guys in both cities I had lived in where I fit in.

Caguamo was even more special and everyone knew him.  I called him El Famoso Caguamo, which was true—he was famous in Vallarta just for being the person he was.  For me, he was more like a soul mate and we had this instant connection the minute I really got to know him in 1998, when we were both in our early 20s, although I was older.

He was one with the sea, hence the nickname, and I couldn’t imagine him anywhere else.  He was kind and caring and didn’t have an enemy in the world.  He was funny and had this spontaneous, high-pitched laugh that usually left me asking him what he was laughing about.  He talked about the most random things and sang me a song about some fictitious person whose father was an imperialist one night. He had supposedly survived smallpox as a child, with the characteristic scars to prove it and no sign of an inoculation on his arm, but it had been eradicated by his birth.  He was deaf in one ear from a wave perforating his ear drum in the Pacific that was never properly treated and if I spoke to him while sitting to his left, he had no clue I was talking to him. He couldn’t sit still for five seconds and neither could I. We’d ramble in Spanish and walk the town all night long and were never bored for a minute.  But most of all, Caguamo was just so easy where I never was.

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Caguamo and some friends.

I had a business that I’d about killed myself to open due to the corruption in México, being foreign even if I spoke fluent, unaccented Spanish and passed for Mexican, and because I was female, which is a real rarity.  I was well-known in Vallarta and would walk back and forth from my apartment to my shop with my dog who I’d rescued from the street of a former neighborhood and I knew every store keeper and many people I passed on the street and they knew me.  I’d return in the evening after la siesta and Caguamo would stop by and we’d talk and talk. After I closed up shop, he’d walk to a street called Olas Altas to meet our friends and I’d hike up to my big, studio apartment to take shower number three and get ready for the night, because in México, everything happens after the blazing sun sets.

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Olas Altas

My dog and I would take the million steps to get down to Olas Altas and walk over to el puesto de tacos, the taco stand, of my friend Chore.  And there was the entire world: all my friends from the beach and my soul mate, Caguamo. The photo of my friends was taken at that spot.  After getting some cerveza and talking with everyone, Caguamo and I would start walking to el Malecón, the boardwalk, and find more friends to catch up with.  And so it went: walking for hours and talking for hours and stopping by Caimanes, a bar owned at least in part by a European, and petting stray cats or something along those lines.  We’d make our way back to Olas Altas and to the beach known as Playa de los Muertos, the Beach of the Dead, and my dog would run wild on Los Muertos while we wandered down el muelle, the pier, and the best spot in town was all ours.

El Malecón, prior to being demolished and rebuilt after I last visited.

One night, I lost my housing.  Before I got that studio I loved, I was staying temporarily with a girl I’d met from Cleveland who lived with her boyfriend, a local guy I knew but not well. They had a tiny, 1 bedroom apartment on another steep hill and couldn’t sleep in the bedroom due to the noise on the intersection below where kids played fútbol non-stop.  And since I slept like a log before I got sick, I moved right in for a couple hundred bucks a month along with my dog and a stray kitten.  So, there we were: 3 adults, 2 dogs (they had a huge lab), and a crazy kitten I wasn’t thrilled about.  What I didn’t know is that my best American friend who I liked so much was in an extremely controlling relationship to say the least and when I was deemed a threat, I got thrown out by her boyfriend while she just sat in a chair and stared at the floor. I heard they got married and he went back to the States with her.  She was a great friend and I so hated hearing that.

The details are blurry, but I think I made the long trek to Viejo Vallarta, or Old Town, looking for Caguamo on Olas Altas that night and he helped me get as much of my things as I could.  I know he found a friend with a truck the next day and we got the rest of it then.  We were loaded down with bags and boxes and I had my dog on a leash as we made our way down from that neighborhood, a huge hill known as El Cerro, and dropped off what I wouldn’t need in my shop, which was a simple store front secured with several, big padlocks.

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El Cerro

It was Semana Santa, Easter week, and the town was full of tourists and I needed to find a motel until I could rent an apartment.  We ran into our friend Michael, a Belgian who had grown up in Vallarta, and he agreed to take my dog for the night as I knew I couldn’t take him to a motel.  I knew my dog would be okay with Michael and he was.  Caguamo and I walked the whole night stopping at every motel and hotel looking for a room, but everyone was booked.  At around 5:00 in the morning, I found a room at a tiny motel and stayed for a day until I found an apartment building adjacent to that great studio, both owned by a foreign doctor I knew who told me that I could keep my dog, but my cat had to go, so Caguamo took her.  We never really bonded, so it wasn’t a huge deal.

I never forgot that night because it exemplified the most important thing to me: having someone’s back—such a rare trait to find in another human being.  Caguamo would have helped me whether I had asked him or not.  He used to stay with me at night when I lived in the apartment building in a studio smaller than this motel room I reside in.  We slept in the same bed because that’s just what we did.  There were lots of chismosos, gossips, in that town and the rumors swirled about this odd couple—this Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera without the grand love affair—but only Caguamo and I know the truth about being soul mates and how that really has no true label or boundaries.  It simply transcends friendship and romantic relationships.

Frida and Diego

Before that studio in the lot next door became available, the doctor became aware that a guy from the beach was staying with me at night and she told me directly that she didn’t want those types living on her property.  I thought that was ridiculous, but couldn’t risk being homeless again, so Caguamo could only hang out after that and I soon got the big studio with the lime tree right outside my door, where someone further up the hill blared Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from The Titanic all day and night.

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My studio and my dog, who I usually called Stinky.

After nearly a year of hard work and being open for less than 6 months, I couldn’t make my business work.  I’d lost too much money by not getting open by the high season due to customs holding up my supplies and the bribes were just adding to the fact that enough revenue wasn’t coming in and everyone was hurting due to El Niño, which had caused a rare hurricane that year that I somehow survived, but had kept tourism low.  I told the landlord of my shop that I’d have to vacate, and up went the se renta sign.

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My business in Viejo Vallarta selling raspados hawaiianos, or Hawaiian shave ice.

I didn’t want to go back to Seattle, but I had no choice as the ability to make a living in a developing country is slim to none, which is why all my friends lived with their families still. I sold what I could and packed up the rest as it wasn’t a huge deal to throw a giant suitcase and 4 huge boxes onto an airplane back then, as long as you had enough muscle to get it all out of baggage claim twice and through customs once. I knew another expat from Seattle named Freddie who drove back north before summer each year.  He agreed to take the rest of my things, like that hand-painted sign above my shop that disappeared in one of my many moves, in his covered truck with Washington plates and we made arrangements to meet when he returned, all in exchange for a mere $50.00.

My friend Chore’s helper at the taco stand said he and his family would take my dog because I had to go back to my mother’s and step-father’s and they wouldn’t let me bring him. It broke my heart as I’d taken this stray who was starving and covered with ticks, fleas, and lice and given him life, even if I could never tame him.  I had named him Chaim, life in Hebrew, because of his story.  I remember handing his leash to Chore who assured me his friend would get him that evening, but I don’t think he ever did because when I returned on vacation for Y2K, I came out of the hotel the night I landed and saw my dog standing on Olas Altas, the street I was staying on in front of the Los Muertos, and I turned and quickly walked the other direction before he saw me or I bursted into tears.  The dogs on the beach are clean and taken care of by the tourists, but it felt like someone had stuck a knife in my heart.

It was all over for me anyway.  I’ve said for years that my fate was sealed when they shut the door on that Alaska Airlines 737 and I remember the long ride to the airport in Freddie’s truck while he air drummed to Roxette blasting though the speakers and I tried to not laugh, but I really just wanted to cry.  I had no idea I’d get sick in 3 years and lose my whole life—that these were my last moments.  I wish that plane had skidded off the runway and burst into flames, but up and away it went as I looked out the window and tried to not panic due to my fear of flying until my town and the beach were swallowed up by the big bay and then the Pacific Ocean.

Where I left my soul.

I don’t remember saying goodbye to Caguamo, only to another friend named Badua, but I saw him when I went back for Y2K and a dreadful trip after I’d started to get sick in March of 2002. I was so sick on that vacation that I left early and that was the last time I ever saw Caguamo.  That night, I left him on bad terms.  We were at a new pool hall and he was beyond drunk and that was the only time I didn’t like to be around him and he knew it.  So, I left with an old boyfriend and went to Los Muertos.  Oh, I spent so much time on that beach at night and on el muelle, the pier, that jutted out from the most famous beach in Vallarta where Caguamo worked.

It was a fateful mistake and I went back to my little motel across the street from the beach that had a balcony with huge iron doors that I left open while I slept.  Around 3:00 in the morning, I awoke to someone calling my name but it took awhile to come to.  I finally made it around the bed in the tiny room and to the balcony, but Caguamo was gone.  I called his name but it was too late.  That was on me and he’ll never know I came to the balcony or that I forgave him over something so trivial.  I was sick and the change within me had started and I wasn’t the same person I had once been.

For years and years, I looked for Caguamo online.  I don’t partake in social media unless blogging counts, but hardly anyone even had a phone line down there due to the fee and while internet cafés opened up, he was hardly the type to use a computer, although I saw him use one—with one finger—that last time I was there in 2002.

I get this feeling when someone is gone, and I had that feeling for a long time about Caguamo.  I could never go back to Vallarta due to my health and the horrid humidity that never bothered me before, but he and my town were that tiny candlelight at the end of the seemingly never ending tunnel: that if a cure came in my lifetime, I could return and be with my soul mate in Vallarta where I knew everyone and everyone knew me and I once was happy.  It’s the reason I hardly have any photos: I’m not a photographer and was too busy living life, as I always was before I got sick.

And so, I guess I hadn’t done a Google search for Caguamo for nearly a year until last Saturday.  Suddenly, I got hits, but I read the same caption in Spanish and English and knew Caguamo was dead and I opened the first site and there he was—the photo on the top of this post, even if the date should say April 6, 2013.  I’d know his face even if I couldn’t see at all. This long “no” came out of my mouth and then the tears ran down my face and I didn’t even read the article for an hour and when I did, I wanted to throw up.

I read how Caguamo had been at Playa de los Muertos in a sea kayak, the latest adventure for tourists, when a speed boat crashed into him.  He had severe abdominal injuries from the impact, but the captain of the speedboat managed to get him to el muelle, the pier, and the paramedics worked on him and got him to CMQ, a private hospital I went to for X-rays once, and then the huge nightmare ensued over money.  I don’t know if Caguamo’s life could have been saved in that town even if they had tried, but if I had been there still, I’d have had my credit card for the damn deposit that he needed to even be admitted.  After taking it all in, I just cried for hours and talked to Caguamo in Spanish about what he meant to me, how sorry I was, the injustice of it all, how I loved him and had never forgotten him and never will, and in the end, that I wish he had just died on el muelle, above his beloved Pacific on Playa de los Muertos.

And since I never spoke to Caguamo in English:

Espero que haya un mar en el cielo y que te estés riendo por siempre mí Caguamito.  Nos vemos…

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El Muelle on Playa de los Muertos, which was rebuilt after I left.

To read the English article detailing Caguamo’s tragic death and the injustice of being denied emergency medicine in México, click here.

Caguamo en el mar.

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MOUSH MOUSH AND ME

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I rescued Moush Moush from a laurel bush in a lakeside suburb of Seattle in the summer of 2001.  A Manx cat had stalked her and she hid in the branches of that bush all day, hoping someone would hear her cries and rescue her.  I thought I heard a cat meowing in front of my attic apartment in an old, dilapidated, Craftsman house before I left for work that day, and when I returned home, there it was still—a loud meowing from within the bush.

I walked over to the overgrown, laurel bush that was as tall as the house and trimmed into an arch over the gravel driveway—creating a tunnel of sorts—and out flew a tuxedo cat with an unusual smoke coat, followed by the evil Manx.  I wiggled my fingers and kept calling, “Come on kitty,” and she ran right after me and up the rickety stairs to my apartment and has never left my side since that day.

It was a strange neighborhood due to the zoning, but I put up signs for a lost cat and no one called.  There was an old orchard behind the Craftsman and I often saw stray cats back there when I went to pick plums and raspberries, but I’d never seen Moush Moush, with her pretty markings and little mustache.  She caught a lot of mice in that orchard for me, so I suppose it was a haven for ferals and strays.  She was so small that I thought she was a kitten when I took her to the vet soon after I rescued her, but they said she was an adult cat and about a year old.  She had been spayed and I’ll never know what happened to her the year before she found me and I found her.  It was under strange circumstances that I rented that apartment and I believe it was fate that we found each other that day.

Within a few months, I began to get sick from Ehler-Danlos syndrome, not that I would know I had it until 11 years later. By the winter, we moved to a nicer apartment in the same area due to a better paying job.  I had a career and was in graduate school and didn’t see Moush Moush all that much, but I was already very attached to her.  We moved again that summer to a duplex in Seattle’s Central District, where Moush Moush caught huge sewer rats she left on the kitchen floor as presents, and then we moved to Southern California due to my declining health and inability to work.  My friends had all left me, but Moush Moush was my quirky, talkative, and loving companion always.  Moving is hard on cats, but she adjusted and was so easy.  She always was.  She even flew to California under my seat since she was only 6 lbs and didn’t meow once.

Moush Moush loved the hot, California desert and my mother’s home on a golf course in a country club became her personal oasis.  She slept in lounge chairs by the pool, hunted Mourning Doves, and chased after Roadrunners and stray golf balls.  I was a very sick, 95 lb zombie schlepped to doctor after doctor in search of a diagnosis, but my little tuxedo was as happy as could be.

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We stayed in the California desert for almost 2 years and I eventually rented an apartment in a mid-century 4-plex in el barrio that I loved and I got a bit better with medication and even worked at a part-time job that I enjoyed and met a friend there.  Then, I started school for a new degree in hopes I could work for myself and balance a career with chronic pain and illness.  I woke up relatively early and ate breakfast in my little, enclosed yard where I’d grown an herb garden.  I got out daily, was around people, and I walked everywhere—so unlike my life now.  I always saw the sunshine.  Things were not horrible, despite my aching body. Moush Moush got in a lot of cat fights in el barrio that I rescued her from, but she was dealing with the loss of the country club.  Well, poverty is poverty.

In late-summer of 2004, we moved to our current state in the SW due to reasons I’d just rather not discuss.  Moush Moush became an indoor cat—stuck mostly in dated, tract-style condos that had mold inside the walls from failed stucco and filthy air ducts, which is typical here.  She only had a dusty balcony to go out on to see the sky and birds, whose call she could mimic.  I wanted a better life for her and for me as the condos made me sicker, but as my life was steadily declining due to my health and inability to work consistently, I just did the best that I could.  I never liked this city and its ugly genericness and it has contributed in so many ways to my downward spiral.

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For a few years we drove back to Seattle for a summer business I’d had for years and Moush Moush loved the long, 2-day ride.  We’d drive to my mother’s house at the country club several times a year and she’d lay in the back window of my car the whole way.  It’s a long drive and was hard on my body like the trips back home, but we’d go late at night and fly on the interstate and she was happy.  Moush Moush always knew where we were going and would climb off her perch the minute we got to the guarded gate of the country club.

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Things got worse with my family and my health and the trips stopped.  I managed to find a nicer condo here in the spring of 2009, but it was on the outskirts of the desert and I became more of a recluse from the isolation and my illness, but maybe Moush Moush was happy that I was always home since I was on SSDI by then and only left once or twice a week for a doctor appointment or to do errands.  It was a newer, better-built, carriage house-type condo with an attached garage below so she could hear me come and go, and when I came home, all of her stuffed rats and toys were lined up at the top of the stairs waiting for me.  She was always sweet and loving—so unlike my family—and I was the same with her.  I smothered her with kisses, even after I became allergic to her.  She was my soul mate—my everything.

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In July of 2009, I flew to Seattle for my brother’s wedding and someone watched Moush Moush for me.  I couldn’t wait to get back home and away from the horrid climate in Washington and my equally horrid family and evil grandmother, whose house I stayed at and ended up crying in the bathroom one night due to her insults and my muscular pain that hurt to the bone from the humidity.  I just wanted to go home to the hot desert and see my little love.

Soon after returning, I noticed a lump on Moush Moush’s right shoulder.  It was like a goose egg that stuck out to the side and felt like a firm oval.  I figured it was just a cyst.  I took her to her vet and the aspirate, or needle biopsy, was strange. There was a viscous fluid that came out via the syringe, but it sounded like a cyst to me.  The aspirate came back from the lab as a benign cyst and actually had flattened like a blister after the fluid was removed, but her white blood cell count was off and her vet wanted to do a biopsy if it grew back—and it did.

I took her in for a little biopsy, which turned into invasive surgery as the cyst—now obviously a tumor—went clear down into her shoulder joint and the vet couldn’t get it all out.  I think this is where things went wrong and I wish she had just taken a small biopsy as planned and left it alone. Moush Moush had to spend the night at the clinic and I picked her up the next day, along with narcotics to take for the pain. Then, I had to wait for the biopsy results, and her vet was not optimistic.  I was a complete wreck.

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I’m extremely superstitious.  I hung a hamsa around her neck and put my big one on her side of the bed and asked anyone above—including all of my deceased relatives—to watch over her.  I don’t know why I do things like that when Jews don’t believe in heaven—I just want to know that people go somewhere in the end I suppose.  I’m not Orthodox, so I pick and choose what I believe.

The call finally came from her vet, who is a very good doctor, but not the type you want to hear bad news from. Moush Moush had myxosarcoma, a rare type of soft-tissue sarcoma and these are not good cancers in any form. Myxosarcomas contain mucin, hence the viscous fluid in the aspirate. They are locally invasive, grow quickly, and have microscopic tentacles of cancer cells, so the only chance of survival is if the vet can get very wide and clean margins around the tumor and hers had been dissected during the biopsy.  Who knows where those creepy, cancer cells had gone as a result?

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The vet said she needed an amputation of her right, front leg. My heart dropped out of my chest, even though I was still in a state of shock from her telling me Moush Moush had cancer.  I begged her to call other desert cities and Southern California, but they all were saying the same thing.  A soft-tissue sarcoma of any type on the body is almost always terminal due to the inability to get the necessary margins, but there is much hope if it’s on a limb that can be amputated, although an oncologist in California had said radiation was needed, as well.  I was referred to a specialty clinic here who has a very good veterinary oncologist and by the time I got in to see him, the tears had somewhat dried up as I had done my research. Humans get the same cancer and the prognosis after an amputation was deemed excellent, regardless of the species.

However, the weeks between the diagnosis and the surgery were a complete nightmare.  I was a walking anxiety attack who was so scared I would lose my best friend.  I couldn’t function and just cried and cried.  It was my father, who happened to be talking to me at the time due to the wedding, who got me through it from afar.

It was a replay of everything my father taught me as a young child, even if he had a mean way of toughening me up.  I had to rely on my strength.  I had to stop breaking down.  I had to be in charge.  I am grateful my father was there for me on the phone and by e-mail.  It was one of the worst times I can remember, nonetheless.  How could this horrible disease happen to my sweet, little cat?  How could it happen to me after all I’d been through?  Why do bad things always happen to good people—and that included Moush Moush?

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Deciding on an amputation is hard, especially when it’s not a decision for yourself.  I needed to know if Moush Moush wanted this surgery, but she didn’t know something in her body was trying to kill her so how could I find that out?  I thought about animals in the wild and how they fight for their lives.  I thought about how in Judaism, life is seen as a gift that you don’t take for granted.  I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing this solely because I couldn’t live without her. All of her doctors were in favor of the amputation and finally, my mind was made up.

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At the appointment at the specialty clinic earlier that month, the oncologist told me that there was a 90% cure rate with amputation.  The 10% would be if the cancer metastasized to the lungs, which wasn’t likely as she had a stage 1 tumor with a very low mitotic index, meaning the tumor was slow growing at that point.  I can’t recall if he mentioned radiation or if they even provided it, but he was very confident that surgery would suffice and I really didn’t want to put Moush Moush through any unnecessary treatments, so I followed his advice.

We met with the surgeon, who was very confident as well, despite the initial surgery she’d had.  He was very friendly and drew diagrams on a whiteboard of how he was going to cut clear around the residual tumor and surgical area in order to get very wide margins and all the microscopic cancer cells.  I was told that tripods, or 3-legged cats, do quite well.  It seemed like Moush Moush had cheated death by getting the tumor on her leg.  The surgery was scheduled.

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I dropped her off with big kisses and was told they would call me when they were done and I could visit her in a couple of days.  I went back to the desolate condo and missed seeing Moush Moush in bed or finding her rats and toys at the top of the stairs.  There was a horrible emptiness as I had no friends and was so isolated as it was.  I was cautiously optimistic that everything would turn out and tried to not think about what she was going through during the surgery. I got a call that all went well and she was recuperating and I felt a little better.

I went to visit her at the specialty clinic a couple days later when they said I could and was completely unprepared.  A tech led me into a small room and I took a seat while she brought Moush Moush in and placed her 5.5 lb body on my lap.  Nearly half her body was shaved and she had a large, semi-circular incision with black sutures where her leg had been.  There was nothing there: no leg, no shoulder, no shoulder blade—I was told that would look odd once the muscles atrophied.  She was on buprenorphine, a very strong narcotic, and she tried to lift her head to turn and look at me, but couldn’t.  I kept petting her and talking to her and telling her how brave she was.  She knew it was me.  The guilt was about to swallow me up and my sadness and anger at this disease was eating me alive.  Moush Moush had been through a terrible surgery and I signed the paperwork.  Why did this have to happen to her?  She didn’t deserve any of it.

I finally was able to take her home.  She smelled awful as she was too sick to groom herself and I wished they could have cleaned her a bit, which I tried to do at home.  I had made a safe, tent bed of pillows under a folding table covered with a sheet.  I had her food and water right by her side, but she didn’t move.  I gave her the liquid narcotic as scheduled and she drank it up.  She couldn’t eat or drink, so I bought baby food and syringed that and water into her mouth to keep her alive.  She stayed like that for days and days and hadn’t used her litter box, which was an aluminum baking pan as I needed something very low to the ground for her.  I was so worried I barely slept.

She finally tried to get up one day, but she didn’t know how to walk on 3 legs and the laminate wood floor was so slippery. She was like Bambi on Ice and did the splits.  I tried to help her to no avail and was so afraid to touch her surgery site and cause any pain.  I bought sticky, rubber drawer liners and lined the floors and little by little she learned to walk on 3 legs.  She also finally went to the bathroom after nearly a week, but she couldn’t make the long walk to the litter box so I had a flood to clean up, but I didn’t care. Moush Moush was going to be okay.

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And she was.  One day I caught her slowly climbing down the stairs and she was sleeping in bed with me again courtesy of a chair I placed at the end to help her get up and down.  With time, she just had trouble getting down from things as she could jump onto lower furniture just fine with two back legs. Every 6 weeks we went to the oncologist for a checkup and chest X-rays, and every time she had a clean bill of health. At the 1-year mark, we could just have this done by her vet and the oncologist reminded me that with each passing year, the chance of metastatic disease was smaller and smaller.  I felt I could finally breathe.

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Shortly after that, we got notice that we had 30 days to move out of our rental condo due to the shyster owner who was moving back in because despite knowing that I was sick and in need of long-term housing, he leased it to me simply so I could pay part of his mortgage while he lived in a house he was flipping during the recession.  Now I knew why I got it for so cheap and he would never forward his mail.  It would be another move for Moush Moush, who was content enough where she was.  The amputation changed her in so many ways, but she was still a sweet and talkative companion that I would do anything for.

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It was August of 2010 and so hot with the monsoon coming and going.  I couldn’t find a rental as most condos here are not locally-owned and are managed by shady property managers who do nothing for you and steal your deposits unless you sue them, but they do require proof of employment—not credit or income.  The large, apartment complexes here are even worse or were converted into condos during the boom before the recession.

So, we ended up in the motel, where we’ve been for nearly 3 years, with the exception of a nightmare, studio condo I reluctantly rented for a year until it developed a clogged sewer line above my unit and I got sewage and Drano dumped on my head twice and ended up with acute bronchitis and fluid in my lungs with a note from the ER doctor to not return until the unit was habitable, which the property manager could care less about.  We stayed for 2 more days until the mold from the wet drywall was too much to bear and I got our old room back here at the motel the evening that I went out-of-state and got a diagnosis of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type II by a geneticist. Well, I can’t say Moush Moush got dealt the best hand in life, either.  At least she prefers to stay in bed most of the time now, as there isn’t much space to walk around in here.

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I used to belong to a small synagogue here that was affordable.  I’m not that religious, but during the part of the Shabbat service where we stand and pray silently, I’d pray and pray that Moush Moush would stay healthy and then take my seat.  It hurt my body to sit through the service and I never prayed for my own health.  The years passed with clean checkups, so the cancer was behind us, even though I didn’t renew my membership last year due to my vision and missed the High Holiday services, which fell right after my corneal surgery when I was far beyond legally blind. Nonetheless, something had worked to keep Moush Moush in remission.

I was the one getting worse.  The keratoconus showed up in 2011 by my estimation and then I connected the dots and got correctly diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos during the sewage disaster in November of 2012 and things just seemed to be spiraling out of control, but I still had Moush Moush to keep me from feeling so utterly alone and unloved.  She has always been my reason for living and the balance when things get so off-kilter.  This September is 4 years since Moush Moush’s amputation and the follow-up appointment when her oncologist put his hand on her side where the tumor had been and said, “I consider this area cured.” Oncologists never like to say the word “cured”.

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Then I felt it the Tuesday before last: a small, firm, oval lump where her leg had been.  I could almost get my fingers under it—just like the myxosarcoma.  I lost my mind and took double doses of Klonopin—my prescribed amount actually—to get through the night until I could call the vet the next day. I also had to see the cardiologist about my echo the following day and can’t say I was at my best.  I was able to get an appointment with the vet that Thursday night, and we saw the same one who did the big biopsy and diagnosed her, so at least she would remember the tumor I hoped.  She did, but the aspirate was dry this time, which allowed me to breathe again momentarily.

The clinic stays open rather late and she said she could do a biopsy—and I stressed just a biopsy—and I could pick Moush Moush up in a few hours.  The vet called when she was done. She said the tumor wasn’t encapsulated and didn’t just come out as hoped.  She wasn’t optimistic, even though she didn’t see the bubble of mucin like last time.  I went back to the double doses of Klonopin and picked Moush Moush up.  She was fine, but had a small incision in her white fur with white stitches from the biopsy and was wild as could be from the narcotic they gave her.

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I calmed down a bit over the weekend, but by Monday I had CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” stuck in my head, with the line “Someone told me long ago; there’s a calm before the storm,” playing like a broken record.  The biopsy results would be back on Tuesday at the earliest.  I had no one to talk to about Moush Moush and I didn’t have a good feeling.  I just kept thinking that this can’t happen again. Things are so bad right now and this really just can’t happen because if this cancer is on the body, they can’t surgically remove it with the wide margins and it’s terminal.

I just can’t lose Moush Moush and I know there are people who are attached to their pets, but they have a life beyond that. She’s the love of my life and literally all I have left.  The first person—yes person—that I talk to when I get up and the last one I talk to when I go to bed and who else do I talk to in between?  I get into bed with her by my side and always say, “Night night, Moush Moush.  I love you.”  I poke my head in her cat pyramid that sits on the bed and kiss her on the head and make sure she’s okay.  Everything is routine with us. She’s been on this slow journey into nothingness with me for 12 years now.

Tuesday came and I called the vet clinic in hopes the biopsy results were in because I needed to know.  I was told something came back and her regular vet, who is a gentle soul, would call back my 9 pm.  So, I waited and tried my best to distract myself.  The clock soon read 10 pm and no call—I already knew why.  Her vet called around 10:45 pm, even though the clinic closes at 10 pm.  If I had to hear bad news, I wanted to hear it from her, but I could tell from her first words what she was going to say.  Moush Moush had a recurrence. The biopsy showed myxofibrosarcoma—the same cancer as before but worded differently.  The diagnosis was grim, especially as it’s the second time and on her body, but she wanted me to see the oncologist to get the hard facts.  I kept my composure and thanked her—I really did need to hear it from this vet who is so warm and caring.

Then, I just broke into a million pieces and cried like I’ve never cried before.  I had a massive panic attack and couldn’t breathe—it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the motel room. I fell to the floor in the bathroom and wanted to die, but I couldn’t leave Moush Moush all alone with this disease, like the world had done to me.  So, I told her exactly what was going on as she senses my moods and was upset.  I know what it’s like to not get the truth about your health, so I told her everything and what was going to happen and that I loved her and that I would somehow find her again one day and that I would never ever forget her and all our seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years together.  How could I?   We eventually went to bed and I kept my hand on her until I fell asleep.

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I spoke with her vet who did the biopsy the following day. She has a softer side and we had a good talk; I’m glad I called.  She told me she was hoping that it would be some benign thing when the biopsy results came back.  She was sorry.  I let her know I had made an appointment with the oncologist for next Wednesday to find out the prognosis.  I do know the mitotic index is higher and this is typical. Soft-tissue sarcomas that aren’t completely excised grow back much more aggressively, but they usually show up again within 3 to 6 months, maybe a year.  We’re almost at 4 years.

Moush Moush’s vet doesn’t understand based on her knowledge of oncology and this type of cancer, either.  She’s not sure if the oncologist will know how a cell, or cells, just sat for so long as soft-tissue sarcomas have a pattern of rapid recurrence.  There’s also the fact that these top, veterinary specialists were so confident and the pathology report showed even wider margins than mandated that were clean. She said I would drive myself crazy trying to understand it. Something that shouldn’t have happened did and science can’t explain it. Science seems so logical, and this freak recurrence after so long is bothering me to no end. I keep replaying everything in my head like with my own diseases. How did this all go so wrong?

How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  Is anyone really upstairs?  I screamed that there wasn’t at the top of my lungs in the bathroom when I got the news on Tuesday.  I wanted to tear my necklace off my neck—the one that I wrote about—but I am still who I am, whether I believe in a higher power or not. The only joy in my life is dying.  My sunshine: the one who lets me cry into her fur and who spoons with me while I hold her tight and tell her I love her forever.  How will I survive this, too?  How will I live this horrific life—this inhumane hand I’ve been dealt—all alone after she’s gone?

I planned on being back in the California desert when her time came years from now and I would bury her there as it’s always warm and beautiful and it’s Moush Moush’s favorite place.  To me, Moush Moush is a person and even as a non-Orthodox Jew, I follow the basic rules regarding death and according to Jewish law, you go into the ground.  I won’t bury her in this city that I wouldn’t want to be buried in myself and I will be out of here the minute my broken-down body is simply capable of moving.

Now, I will have to cremate her and the thought makes me want to vomit—burning bodies like crematoriums in concentration camps with flames and smoke and the smell of burning flesh.  I can’t think about it; it’s not our way.  Moush Moush deserves to be buried in a cemetery among the petunias; she always loved to hide in the gardens at my mother’s home that are filled with them.

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I can’t think of her becoming sick very soon and then that last trip to the vet when I get to be the executioner—the one who gives the vet the go ahead.  I won’t let her suffer like I have for 12 years, but I don’t know how I will give the orders. I will say the Shema for her and then how will I express a lifetime of love in the few minutes we will have left when she has no idea what is coming, but I do?  My heart is ripping apart and my eyes are swollen and hurt from so many tears. I’ve kissed her and told her I loved her a thousand times. I’ve taken so many photos this week of Moush Moush and me—the ones I should have taken years ago.  The photo of us together is from this Wednesday on my airbed; we would never sleep on some hard, nasty bed with motel sheets.

How many times did I spend the whole night writing posts for this blog that I edited for days while Moush Moush just stared at me with her head hanging off the bed beside me? How many hours passed with my body aching from sitting and typing on the laptop and I didn’t notice her there watching me?  I started this blog 11 months ago to the day and aside from my search engine crowd that I am providing much needed information to and a few, faithful followers, I’m really not sure it was worth so much of my time now.  I wish I could do it all over, just like my life.  Why is hindsight always 20/20?

I saw my counselor this Wednesday after I spoke with her vet and less than 24 hours after getting the devastating news about the recurrence.  Things are better between us.  Some erroneous assumptions had been made about me that are now cleared up and his weirdness is gone, as well.  I’m still confused as to what happened as things were off from the start.  Yes, my counselor is male and I no longer am worried about him reading my blog—I really hope I can trust that he won’t.  It’s almost like a whole new person is in our sessions that he lets run for one and a half hours in the evening, which I really need.  I didn’t want to talk about Moush Moush, but he said I should and then I just melted into a puddle of tears.  My counselor was what I needed that night.

He told me he had ordered an audio book for me the previous week and I’ll get it at my next session; I can barely read printed text anymore due to my vision.  He asked if I knew who Viktor Frankl was.  I said that of course I knew who he was—the late psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who wrote Man’s Search For Meaning, which I read so long ago that I don’t remember it well, but I never forgot the title because it fits me so perfectly: the need to know why.  I eagerly asked if that was the audio book he bought me and it is.  When was the last time I received a gift?  My counselor actually understands me, when no one else ever has before. He understands my brain and my need for answers and the Jewishness that is woven through everything.  This is a good thing and I desperately need it right now.  He gave me a big hug after our session and I felt like someone cared about Moush Moush and about me and all that I had endured in the past and all that I am enduring now.  I felt compassion, and maybe for the first time.

When detailing his experience in the concentration camps, Frankl wrote, “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.”  This is the concept I need to understand and the one I couldn’t explain until now.  I need to learn it from a fellow Jew who endured the worst suffering imaginable and my counselor realized that.  This is exactly why counseling has always failed me in the past, as well.  I have yet another steep mountain to climb and I will have to do it all alone this time.

The hole in my heart that can only be filled by Moush Moush has begun to grow and it hurts more than any physical pain I’ve ever known.  My counselor said that I shouldn’t think of her as dying now and to spend every precious moment I can with her—and I am.  This is my last post for now as I needed to write an homage to Moush Moush, who is the best thing that has ever happened to me in the almost 40 years I’ve been on this earth.  She deserves her story to be told.

I always wanted to find the fountain of youth so that for as long as I lived, my little soul mate would be by my side.  I naively thought it would always be Moush Moush and me going through this life together.  She is the one good thing I still have and I am clinging on to her for dear life until the last piece of me is stolen away.  I only hope I can understand the meaning in suffering before that happens.  I love you, Moush Moush—forever and ever and ever.

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Mi Shebeiriach

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