Northside SF  

The sun and the moon and the stars...
By Susan Dyer Reynolds

July of 2006 will go down as one of the saddest and most difficult months of my life; the month when I lost my beloved orange tabby, Steven, to a blood disorder that came on suddenly and without mercy. He had been growing weaker by the day – he wasn’t in pain, but I knew he was fading. His appetite went from ravenous to nonexistent one afternoon, and I knew it was time to make that awful decision that most people with pets eventually must make. My wonderful veterinarian at Blue Cross Pet Hospital, Sherman Wong, had been Steven’s doctor since he was eight weeks old, and he offered to come by my house after the work day and put him down here. While that gave me some comfort, I still prayed that he would go on his own. At 9:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18, those prayers were answered. Curled up in my lap, as he had been so many nights throughout the years, Steven took all the strength he had left in his little body and lifted his head to look deep into my eyes. We both knew. I kissed his little face one more time and said what I have always said to him: "Steven, the sun and the moon and the stars rise and set with you. They always have and they always will…” Just then he drew two short, deep breaths and his head fell slowly into my arms. He was gone. At first, I was still; silent; unable to move. Then I let out a blood-curdling scream, pulled him up to my chest and cried into his fur, my mind a flood of memories.

   My dearest friends know that Steven was more than a pet to me. When I moved to San Francisco after graduating from college, my mother and my boyfriend had both died suddenly, just six months apart. I was at the lowest point of my life, wallowing in sorrow and grief and in need of a big change. I moved my mother’s three cats with me from the Silicon Valley to a Victorian in the Haight-Ashbury, along with four roommates. Each night I would go to the back room and feed the cats, but my mother had spoiled them terribly and they turned their noses up at every can of Friskies they were offered. On a gray, gloomy July evening, I looked out onto the deck to see a scraggly orange tabby, thin as a rail except for her beach ball-sized stomach, staring longingly at the bowls my mother’s cats had walked away from. Slowly, I opened the sliding glass door and nudged the bowls toward her. Although she was terrified, she came to me and promptly devoured all three bowls of food. For the next three months, I fed her and talked to her, though she wouldn’t let me touch her. A roommate started calling her Kelly, after the character on Married with Children, because she was “a little blonde tramp.” The name stuck.

   Over the next several months Kelly started to trust me, coming into the house and napping at the foot of my bed, one eye always open. On a blustery Halloween morning, she came for breakfast big as a house and came back for dinner skinny. In the garage next door I could hear the tiny squeaks of kittens.

   On a rainy night six weeks later, she brought the kittens into our basement one by one. She then changed her mind and tried to take them back, but I shut the cat door because I knew without socialization they would become feral. My roommates pitched in and we bottled-raised her four tiny babies. The runt was an orange tabby with a perfectly symmetrical moustache on his face and rebellion in his eyes. The first time I held him in the palm of my hand to give him a bottle, I was in love. One of my roommates stared at him over my shoulder and said, “He looks like a ‘Steven,’” in reference to Doug Allen’s comic strip about an insolent 12-year old boy. A cat named “Steven.” Seemed odd, but it suited him.

   One by one we adopted out Steven’s brothers and sisters to good homes, and the little orange tabby with the moustache became my constant companion, sleeping on top of my computer monitor as I worked from home as a freelance writer and copy editor. I didn’t have time to wallow in my grief and despair any longer – I had a little creature that needed me, and, as it turned out, I needed him.

   Over the years, he was there for me through so much. Steven was more dog than cat: fetching, coming when I whistled or called him, lounging in my lap at every opportunity, waiting at the door when I returned home. He was the smartest animal I've ever known – I could literally see the wheels turning in his head as he planned his next mischief. He was my constant little clown when I needed to laugh and a furry little shoulder always right there when I needed to cry.

   Recently, I watched him lose some of that bounce in his step. He didn’t traverse the backyard jungles as often, he slept a little more, and he started losing some of his litheness and his muscle. He was, by cat standards, an old man. Still, up to the very last week, he was at my side as I wrote, waiting at the door when I arrived home, and begging for leftovers from the many restaurants I visit as part of my job. (Friends often joked that Steven ate better than they did, and it was true.)

   Today as I write this in my office at home, there is an unbearable silence where there used to be the jingle of his bells and the whirling, high-pitched purr that could be heard two rooms away. Steven was always a happy cat, and he taught me to be happy again when I didn’t think it was possible. While my heart is broken, I wouldn’t trade our time together for anything in the world.

“…I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance,
I could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance.”

                                                – “The Dance,” by Tony Arata

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