A week ago I finally made it to the top of my local library’s hold list, qualifying for my turn to check out Neil Gaiman’s 2012 Key Note Address Make Good Art in book form. February was feeling rough and I felt like I could use a little motivational pick me up, so I promptly headed over to the library to lay claim to my hold.
When I got the book home the following passage stuck out to me:
Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
Make good art.
I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
I found myself thinking yes, I know relationships fail and injuries happen and the IRS can be on your back, but the cat exploding? Come on. Whose cat explodes? And then I remembered my cat.
Battle Cat, my cat, has had his share of issues before, mostly problems with his less than friendly personality. He also has bouts of unattractive and random baldness, anxiety licking, stinky-ness, obesity, and murderous tendencies toward any life form smaller or cuter than him (birds, small children, baby rabbits). He’s not the sweetest animal but he’s been my faithful late night companion and a great drawing model when no one else is willing.
Battle had thrown up before, but around the new year it became more frequent. I didn’t pay too much attention because everyone else in the family had strep and then flu so I’d become numb to the high volume of vomiting going on at our house. Battle throwing up once a day helped him keep pace with everyone else in the family. It was like he was getting into the spirit of things and helping us all celebrate the Sick Season, the season that follows right after the equally demanding holiday season of Christmas and New Year.
Then it all got worse. By February, Battle started throwing up multiple times each day. I took him to the vet and we got some medicine and new food. But Battle kept throwing up. He lost weight. He became lethargic.
Then the cat exploded. It happened on a typically hectic school morning. I came down to the basement to try to dig out somebody’s crumpled school shirt from the mounds of laundry. I only got about half way down the stairs when the stench hit me. It was thick and animal and wrapped around a sour metal tang.
I continued down to the basement and came face to face with cat gore. Across the floor of four rooms, splashed along walls, over and under my work space, smeared over the coach and kid toys and clean and unclean laundry were the liquid remains of the cat. It was an inseparable mix of blood and mucus and pink bubbly phlegm and the sort of liquid brown goo freshly leaked through intestines.
My mind reeled. Who would do this? What person would be capable of such an act? Or what animals? Was there a monster in my basement? Was it still lurking? Was I in danger? My thoughts were interrupted my the piercing whine of a meow.
There at his usual spot astride his food bowl, the cat looked expectantly at me. It was feeding time. I looked again at the bloody muck pooling and puddling throughout the basement. The cat meowed again, a little more insistent. He sat up and stretched lazily and then scratched at his bowl in the way of a helpful reminder. I mechanically served up his breakfast, filled his water, and carefully backed away.
But there were places everyone needed to be. So I shut the door to the basement and took people to school. When I returned, instead of working on the painting I’d planned, I scrubbed cat gore off the walls and floors and furniture and toys. And I re-laundered mounds of clothing. And the cat companionably sat nearby and watched.
But the cat did not explode once. Battle exploded again, later that afternoon, leaving the same convulsing trail of spewed body liquids. I didn’t see it. I just came home to the repeat of gore. But this time the cat had rolled around it and so matted bits of feces and dark scabs clung to his fur. So the Sisyphean task of scrubbing and bleaching and laundering began again. But this time I had to drag the cat, yowling, into the bathtub to be scrubbed.
And it went on for days. I called the vet for another appointment, then I called back and canceled, then I called again and rescheduled but for a day later, then I canceled. At this point I was pretty sure the cat was dying. And I didn’t want him to die. I didn’t want to put him down. I wanted one more day together. It was selfish. It was illogical. But I loved my cat. And he seemed so content when he wasn’t exploding. And I thought it might be nicer for him if he died at home instead of dying in a state of freaked out stress at the vet’s office.
But the cat did not die. The stench was getting to me, and all the lost time for work, and my daughter’s favorite doll now bore brownish red puke stains across its once lovely white face, and my stack of composition sketches destroyed with who knows what sort of biological sludge. I didn’t know what to do. Was it time to let go? Was I a murderer? Would I every have time in life to work at anything besides cleaning after the cat?
I told myself to set a deadline. After that date, no more. This was the end. If anything besides a meow came out of Battle, we were going to the vet THAT day. And then I cried and told Battle I had tried so hard and it couldn’t go on like this.
And then it all ended happily ever after, because that was it. Using his magic cat powers, Battle pulled some strings and cashed in one of his nine lives. (I’m guessing that was number 7) And nothing but meows have come out of him since.
Now I know we may be living in the calm of the eye of the storm and Battle could start it all up again any day, but until that happens I’m grateful we survived and get to spend a little more time together.
So we can make great art…or at least, more late night cat drawings.