Thursday, April 12, 2012
The story of Myst began with my roots in the Ottawa Animation community. I had just dropped out of the BFA program at Ottawa U and I needed to find a job. My summer job from '89 (tie-dyeing t-shirts for a couple of Deadheads) was no longer available, and I scoured the paper. A small classified ad appeared for Hinton Animation Studios and I managed to get an interview. Little did I know that by the time Hinton finally rolled up its carpet, it would have employed pretty much every artist, cartoonist, neo-tattooist, punk, scribbler, animator and muralist in town. You see; it needed cel-painters by the truckload for a feature film (aka 'Opaquers'). These were the lucky folks who hand-painted the back of acetate cels for TV shows (The Raccoons) and yes, features (Warner Bros. The Nutcracker Prince).
Opaquing, although not rocket-science, took patience, steady hands, good eyes and, understandably enough something to get you through the dullness of painting 245 cels of a raccoon tying shoelaces and standing up. The 'something', for me, and many of the other opaquers was music. Music (at that time, dragged around on cassettes and walkmans..or ghetto blasters...) was listened to, shared, traded and copied. A LOT.
Celtic fusion, an interest in traditional fantasy RPGs, and a love of comics helped to gel one of the most amazing groups of friends I've had the pleasure of building. 22 yrs and counting... n__n It was at Hinton that I met Rob Anderson, Bobbie Stewart, Clayton Jacobs and Bobbie's sister Nina Stewart (though I've always known her as 'Maya' <--'good Maya' for anyone who is paying attention :-)
Years ago, Maya brought home a Manx kitten from her Uncle's farm in her home province of New Brunswick. The kitten was Matilda, an amazing cat, with a unique personality and yellow, owl-like eyes. She was a beautiful creature, squared off bum, dark fur with gold highlights. Maya was hoping to revive the NB line of Manx cats, specifically those which, rumour had it, had some wildcat blood in their background somewhere! One only has to look at say, this pic of a lynx to make a few logical jumps to the truth...
Matilda never had kittens, but Maya's black cat Mungo (also a Manx from NB) eventually hooked up with my Mom's barn cat Minkie (the famous cat from 'The Story of Minkie's Kitten') We figured that at the end of it all, we'd end up with Munkies n__n . Minkie littered 6 kittens, one of whom was an unusual black striped tabby named El Diablo who, despite the ill-fated name, was one of the gentlest and sweetest kitties I've ever known. Of the other six, two were Manx, and of those two one survived.
I had no idea at the time that Manx mutations can have terrible genetic consequences; since the lack of a tail being the end of the cat's spinal column, can produce kittens that can't live (or live well) if the spine is too short. One is left with paralyzed kittens, or unfinished kittens, or kittens that can't control their bowels. Little Bongo, a grey tabby Manx, was one of the latter and sadly had to be put to sleep.
The other Manx of the litter, was a tiny, grey silver 'hamster'; tailless, healthy and female. We called her Myst and she was born Jan 4th, 1997. Myst grew to be a thick-set, silver grey cat with dark yellow 'owl eyes' (reminiscent of her Aunt Matilda) and paranoiac to the extreme, thanks to her barn cat mom, Minkie, who I can only assume coached her to 'TRUST NOTHING' and watch out for 'The Sack'. (When my Mom initially picked up Minkie and her brother Sammy from a local farm, the 11 yr old sent to get the kittens in the barn did so with a canvas bag, if you can believe it.)
Myst came with me during my move to Bell St. S. when I was working at Dynomight Cartoons and could walk to work. These were happy, peaceful times for Myst as she was to enjoy the singular experience of being an 'Only Cat'. You know how some cats yearn to be 'only cats', with no other cats, dogs or kids around to harass them? That lasted until Thanksgiving when Arlo turned up at my Mom's back door after a 3 month disappearance! Myst's 'only cat-ness' was over and she wasn't happy about it. She expressed her unhappiness the only way a cat can. She peed. She peed in the hallway, the bathroom, the kitchen, the hallway, the entranceway. This continued, pretty much unabated, for the rest of her life in various homes and apartments. Since Myst was never to return to 'only cat'dom, I can't say I'm that surprised.
But she was a sweet, darling kitty. She was a gentle soul that loved a tender scratch under her chin. If you spent time brushing and really going through the quadruple layer of plush fur, she would make hilarious grunting/chirp noises and lick her paws while you did it. Sometimes she would even deign to let Hank clean her ears (not that cats have that much of a choice, when it comes to persistent Corgis...)
She used to be almost completely round, and, when sleeping it was hard to tell which end was which. She had steadily lost weight over the last few years and had developed arthritis, making it difficult to go up and down the stairs or jump on the couch (she had to give it a few 'go's' to finally hop on. Her 'protest' pees that happened a few times a week increased to daily, then a few times a day, usually in the kitchen, where you are generally stumbling around in your bare feet or socks, trying to conjure coffee.
I realized awhile ago that I was putting off the inevitable. Myst's health was going downhill and she was having a harder time getting around. And the peeing. Constantly. It took everything I had to call the Stittsville Small Animal Clinic and book her final appointment. I didn't know that they put euthanasia as the last appointment of the day, but I understand now why they do it. After I'd phoned, I cried, sitting on the couch, feeling like a murderer. Hank nuzzled up next to me, first on one side, then the other, trying to sort out what was wrong.
Yesterday was impossible. I kept crying; every time I looked at her, I kept thinkng of the tiny felt grey hamster she'd been as a newborn kitten. Then I looked at Hank and realized that I'd lose him sometime as well. Then I felt worse as my imagination and temperament went into full Sue-swing. Then I talked to my Mom and Clayton and settled down a little.
Finally, the end of the day came and we packed Myst in the cat carrier and drove to Stittsville. She meowed the whole time; little yowly, growly meows... similar in tone to her half-brother Saki's ululations, but without his range. I had trouble seeing to drive and kept wiping my eyes on tissues and trying to clean my sunglasses which were steaming up. Finally, we parked in the lot and I just let it out. The sun had turned everything gold and green; the sky was a stark, spring blue with thick low-hanging clouds. Myst was quiet except for an occasional 'what-the-hell-is-going-on?' mew.
We went in and were ushered into a cubicle. I was shaking and kept wiping my face. It felt puffy and I couldn't breathe. Dr. Bickerton came in and I signed the form. It felt surreal watching the pen jerk over the paper; signing her death sentence. Myst was released from the carrier and explored the room curiously. She'd not been back since she'd been spayed by Dr. J. Randall, who had also given her her ear tattoo at the time: HZB6.
The doc explained everything to me, but it was all running together in a haze of tears and guilt. I just pet Myst's fur while she lay on the towel; the little IV set up in her tiny grey arm. I could feel the muscle and fat under her fur. Her brow was its usual puzzled, slightly disapproving line. Finally the deep rumble of her purr came forth and I cried even more.
At that minute, I hated the ease of power that we exercise over our companion animals..they live blissfully unaware that they have no say as to their future under our care. Then, randomly, you set up an appointment to have them killed. You drive them there, sign papers, they are lethally injected, you pay money to the ones who do it for you, because you're too much of a coward to kill them yourself and you go home with the silent corpse in the car. I felt a deep self-loathing and rage, and that was part of the shaking. I felt the ultimate sense that I had betrayed something's innocent and unguarded trust in me.
It didn't matter that she was old. It didn't matter that it was hard for her to walk and that she was incontinent. In my head, I was doing an awful, unforgivable act.
I kept petting her and remembering her, and finally giving the signal for the sedative. Myst relaxed. the little shoulders slumped and her head tilted. I pet her, feeling my face pinch tightly against my skin, my forehead pounding with the beginning of an awful headache. Myst let out a quiet snore. I felt something ease in my chest. She was asleep. The doctor gave us time the entire way, to say goodbyes, to hold Myst, to be ready to let her go for good. I couldn't believe the depth and gentle understanding of these people; to have that perfect empathy and knowledge and love was incredible.
I nodded, numbly letting her know it was Time.
She gave Myst the drug and my body felt like it was being compressed on all sides; that I couldn't take it, that the pressure of the emotion was going to burst me from within. My hands shook as I kept petting Myst, feeling the life ease from her, a thin soul running like smoke from the edges of a fleshy envelope. I knew it had to happen, but wished with everything in me that I could push it back, fix it, make it better; make her better, but I couldn't.
We stayed with Myst and just held her. She was gone; no purrs, no snoring, no licking her paws and making her annoyed grumbly sounds; just empty and soft and cooling, except for the heat of my hands.
I was wrung out; a damp cloth squeezed of emotion and tears. The doc took Myst and we went out to the front of the clinic. The technician was understanding and kind, we said the right words to each other; but my voice was croaky. I was half in reminiscence and half there. It was surreal paying with a bank card for something so unlikely. Only 2 hours before I'd bought groceries with the same card. Life and death. $124.00.
Dr. Bickerton brought Myst out in the carrier, wrapped in a towel for a shroud. She handed me the carrier and I staggered through heart-felt thank yous. What better or more gentle person could help you through something like this? Someone who healed and when healing was impossible, sent those trusting, aching creatures onward. The doctor said: if you need to talk, it's ok. Call me. I nodded numbly, sniffling and moving through the open door; penetrating my own envelope between what had just happened and what was to be.
The parking lot looked exactly the same. The sun was still going down; gold and the lawns were the intense green of spring. The sky was a richer blue and the clouds looked like thick shreds of cotton candy, indigo on the bottom and white with grey. It looked like time had stopped and I thought of Auden's poem:
"...Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come..."
W. H. Auden
It is probably vaguely sacrilegious to quote Auden for a cat. But what the hell. It was death, and I watched as Clayton slid the carrier/coffin into the car and the words kept going through my head.
We drove quietly home and my face pounded with tears and pressure. It was getting a little darker as we began to prepare the grave. I dragged a shovel from the shed and dug deep. It was rich soil, mixed with clay and I knew I would plant catnip and a rose on top of it. It would be ok. I kept digging. Clayton cleared raspberry canes that were trying to blind me.
We lifted Myst, wrapped in her shroud. She was limp and soft, heavy and quiet. We laid her down and talked about her. She was a sweet cat, without a mean bone in her body. What could be better than to be recalled as never having been mean? Can most people say they've never been mean? I placed boards across the shroud, and refilled the loose soil. Clay tamped it down and we piled stones over her. It was finished.
Remember when you have light and love and youth in your hands; that sprightly kitten, the goofy puppy...hold on to that joy and the intensity of that love. Hold on to it.