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In Memory of our Beloved Snowstorm

Ali asked me a question about her toddlerhood recently and I looked at the archives here on the ol’ blog in order to reference exactly when the incident she was curious about occurred.  That resulted in me getting lost in my archives, reading about things that I know happened, but didn’t remember very clearly until I read what I had written about them.  That made me realize how important this space is – not to social media, or to other people who may or may not want to read what’s written here, but to me, and to my girls.

I’ve had a hard time writing over the last couple (few??) years.  I think it’s because I’m just not sure about my voice, about what’s ok to discuss in a public forum, about whether or not people I would prefer didn’t read my words are coming here in order to read what I have to say and hold it against me.

I want to preserve my memories.  The words I use to describe them don’t have to be particularly eloquent or creative.  My voice doesn’t have to be sure and seasoned.  And if those who would choose to use my words against me come here to read, I have to believe that my true character will always shine through, and that I have nothing to apologize for.

So.

———-

I want to write about Snowstorm, because I don’t ever want to forget.  At this point in time I tend to think that’s not possible, but reading through my archives and realizing how much slips through the gaps of my memory, I need to put this experience into words.

If you are squeamish, I apologize.  This is for me – graphic detail about what I experienced, so that years from now, when Blythe asks me what happened and I feel she can handle it, I will share my memories with her.  Or maybe not, I guess we’ll just have to see.

In the summer of 2010, shortly after Blythe turned 3 and was still in the throes of her myriad medical issues, she was in the habit of waking up at ungodly hours, unable – or unwilling, it would sometimes seem – to go back to sleep.  On a warm day in July of that year, she woke up before the sun.  I decided to lay down with her in her bed in hopes that she would (please god just let her, just this once) go back to sleep.  But eventually she heard her father stirring around the house.  We owned a construction company whose shop was on our property, and with the summer heat we had the crew starting just after sunrise.   Darling little Blythe heard her dad leave the house and was intent on taking a walk down to the shop to wish him a good morning.

Just to be clear, while the child regularly woke up – and stayed up – during the night, she had never requested that we walk down the dirt road to the shop when it was barely light outside.  This was an isolated incident, one that was never repeated, so it’s especially significant that we happened to walk along the road that day.

On our short walk between our house and the shop, we saw something white in the middle of the dirt road.  At first we thought one of our crew had dropped a t-shirt or a rag, but upon closer inspection we discovered a tiny little white kitten.  His eyes and nose were so thickly coated with crusted mucous that he couldn’t open his eyes to see, nor could he smell.  For all intents and purposes, the tiny little helpless kitten had laid down in the road to die, and the ants and fleas had already started to treat him as a corpse.  Had we not taken a walk at that particular time on that specific day, he would have been run over by one of our crew heading out to work.

Blythe got to him first, and begged me to save him.  A lover of animals, I had rescued many a cat in my time.  I quickly sprung into action.  I took off my sweatshirt and wrapped him up in it, rushing him back to the house where I cleaned the bugs and mucous off of him the best I could with warm water.  He never made a sound, never fought me.  I thought for sure he would die.

A few hours later, our veterinarian gave me somber news.  The kitten was infested with pretty much every parasite known to felines and would have to be quarantined for a minimum of three months.  He was severely dehydrated and malnourished, and had an eye/ear/nose/throat infection that was so severe that it indicated a permanent, incurable condition was present.  I would have to give him subcutaneous saline injections, and if he wouldn’t eat – which was pretty likely since he couldn’t smell – I would have to force feed him and hope that he would eventually eat willingly on his own.  The prognosis was not good.

I can’t begin to explain to you about the rapid rate at which Blythe’s health, behavioral and emotional issues were gaining momentum at that particular time.  It was as though every moment of therapy that brought improvement in certain areas gave birth to new issues, new problems, new hurdles.  Her sensory processing disorder, which seemed to be getting better in so many ways, was simultaneously getting worse in new, stranger ways.  Her behavior and emotions – ruled by her innate feeling of being on fire inside – were at times overwhelming, for both of us.  To be perfectly honest, I was afraid.  Afraid that I couldn’t keep up, couldn’t help her, that we were losing ground faster than we were gaining it and that the daily battles we were fighting were going to result in a lost war.  Not to mention that my marriage was spiraling crazily out of control and my husband was behaving like a paranoid delusional lunatic, but I digress.

The magic that happened between Snowstorm and Blythe is indescribable.  His soft, gentle spirit calmed her inner fire.  His fragility, his need to be saved brought out in her a side I’d never seen.  She was willing to endure whatever sensory discomfort was necessary in order to help him.  He was so close to death, and she chose – at three years old, this child chose – to put his needs above her own, every day.

To be sure, we saved his life – she saved his life – but he saved her, too.  He was the most amazing, sweet, tolerant, loving cat I’ve ever known and while he loved the rest of the family, too, the bond between Snowstorm and Blythe was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

We saved him from certain death in the middle of our gravel driveway in July of 2010 and so, when I found him in the middle of yet another gravel driveway of a different home in January of 2014, I couldn’t help but think to myself, later, that some force in the universe must have made it so.  We were granted his presense in our lives for that short period of time, but it was a fluke.

I replay that day in my head so often.  The cats are only allowed outside during the day and we open the bathroom window because it has a slit in the screen for them to go in and out.  It had been cold, and a little rainy, so the cats hadn’t wanted to go out.  We were on our way out the door for school and Snowstorm had planted himself in the middle of the doorway.  “Do I want to be in or out?” he seemed to wonder, as he looked up at me.  We were running about 3 minutes behind schedule.  I nudged him out the door and hustled the kids into the car.  As we got buckled we laughed about how he always rolled around in the dirt right where Hank, our dog, peed when we let him out in the morning.

January is a busy month for me, and I admit that when I got back home an hour later, I didn’t even think about the fact that Snowstorm was outside.  I didn’t call for him, and I didn’t open the bathroom window.  I just came home and got to work.  Before I knew it, my alarm was going off and it was time to pick up the kids.  Nathan had left for the winery, which is just down the road from our house, an hour or so before.  Usually he and Hank walk, but this time he drove, because he had to haul some equipment over.

Whether Snowstorm got caught up in his truck then, or whether he wandered over to the winery and got caught up in there later, we’ll never know.  But when the girls got home from school and couldn’t find him, all three of us were in a panic.  We called and called him – yes, we have trained our cats to come when called – and he didn’t come  home.  Nathan said later that he could hear us calling for Snowstorm from the winery and wondered what was going on.

A short while later, Nathan left the house for wrestling practice about five minutes before us.  Normally, we all drove together, but we’d been having some trouble with Blythe’s enthusiasm for wrestling and our compromise to get her to see the season through was that I’d take her to wrestling, but we didn’t have to stay for the second session for older kids.  Nathan was the coach for both sessions, and wrestling nights often had us at practice for three full hours.

Snowstorm was lying in the middle of the road, still as can be.  My headlights found him and I was the first to see that there was something white in the road.  I told the girls to stay in the car and went to him.

He was still alive.  One of his back legs was badly mangled, and the side of his skull that laid against the ground was crushed.  His breathing was labored and as I petted his soft, silky fur, his tail moved.  I had been trying to block him from the kids’ view, but they saw the swish of tail and knew he was alive.  I didn’t want them to see him this way – so very near the brink of death, with blood and bits of brain matter soaking into the gravel beneath his head.  I didn’t know what to do.  Here he was, this wonderful member of my family fatally injured and yet not able to die, and my kids watching from the car.

Not knowing what else to do, I tried to strangle him to put him out of his misery.  In the movies and on television, strangling looks so easy – he was so small compared to me, and so near to death, I thought for sure I could do it.  But he wouldn’t die.  His broken body struggled for breath and I could not end his life.  I could hear Ali and Blythe crying and screaming from the car.  Ali was yelling, “Do something!!” and at the time I thought she was talking to me, but she explained later that she was talking to God.  In the lessons they’ve learned at the church their dad and his girlfriend take them to, God will answer your prayers if you’re pure of heart and deserving.

They haven’t yet forgiven “God” for finding them and dear, sweet Snowstorm, undeserving.

The girls called Nathan from my phone, which was in the car, and he came back.  By the time he arrived, I had wrapped Snowstorm in a towel to transport him back home and on the short ride, he passed away.  I held him in my arms, swaddled like the sweet angel baby he was, while Nathan dug a hole in the backyard.

He is not the first cat I’ve had to say good-bye to.  But his death was by far the hardest one I’ve had to deal with.  I feel so terribly responsible.  I neglected him on that day, the only day I’ve ever neglected him, and he died.  He died a horrible, tragic death and all we can figure is that he crawled up inside the drive train of Nathan’s truck to try and stay warm and got stuck.

Blythe cries for him all the time.  Our kitten, Zeus, who was supposed to be mine since my cat, Eema, passed away a year ago, has gone out of his way to be sweet to Blythe.  I told her that Zeus could be her cat, and she’s thankful, but he isn’t Snowstorm.  No one ever will be.

He was her knight in shining armor.  He saved her when nothing I, or her counselors or doctors or specialists did seemed to work.  He was kind and sweet and loving and gentle and now he’s gone.  So terribly, tragically, permanently gone.

And our hearts just can’t seem to heal.

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