Bye Bye Mellow

Mellow in shoe

Mellow in my Boot

We lost our sweet little kitty today. Mellow was her name and she was only one year old. Beautiful colors, kind of an electric bluish-gray on white. She was a petting cat. She’d lie in Shade’s lap for ages while he stroked her. She could have been a therapy cat. She was very playful. Mayan used to kick his mini-soccer ball around and she’d play goalie, jumping way up in the air and landing on it. She’d ambush our legs, too. At those times we named her Menace. The lizards didn’t like her much. She’d bring three or four in the house daily and bat them around. We’d find the desiccated carcasses under our grandfather clock, as if it were a lizard mausoleum. So she also earned the name Malice.

I woke up early, around 5 a.m., and Mellow was lying by my side. I stroked her in my half-sleep. She had hair as soft as lamb’s wool and a bushy paintbrush tail. Then I got up. Around 6:30 a.m., we could hear the crashing glass of the recycling truck a couple streets over. Aitza mentioned that we’d forgotten to take out the trash, so I lifted the full bag out of the kitchen and carried it to the roadside. That’s where I found her. Her bounding was cut short by a car tire. Our road has notorious speeders, and I’m constantly warning the kids to watch when they cross the road. But you can’t warn a cat. Even if you could, cats don’t give a damn what you say. At the very least, it looked like it was a quick and painless death. No suffering.

Mellow with the Family

Mellow with the Fam

The kids still weren’t up yet. We chose to hold on until after school to tell them. Death is a hard thing to take with you through the day, especially if you’re a child, especially for Mayan. Ever since Shade’s stroke, Mayan freaks out whenever he has a headache or a cold. “Am I going to die?” he asks. “No, you’re fine,” we say. Shade doesn’t have the same fears. He’s already thumb wrestled with Death and won, though he took a few bruises in the battle. If he had quicker reactions and better memory, he’d make a great anti-terrorist operative because he doesn’t flinch at things that make others go “Eeek!”

When we told the boys, Aitza and I were bawling, too. I think I had a few flashbacks from 2011. Life is so fleeting that one moment you’re stroking your kitten and the next it’s lifeless on the asphalt. Or you’re talking to your children over the phone as they vacation in San Antonio, and the next day one of them is in a coma. Or your mom is working in the yard one day and has colon cancer the next.

Mellow and Shade

Mellow and Shade

It’s nerve wracking because death is always around the corner, but it rarely sends a message that it will be showing up. It pops up and punches you in the gut. I try to be Buddhist about it, meditating on the impermanence of everything, the inevitable entropy of the universe. That’s easier to do when you’re not connected to the dying. Right now I feel as if my soul is being stretched like a rubber band to the point that one little tug more and it will pop. And that’s just for our cat.

But it works the other way, too. You’re walking in from work and you hear a meow in the bushes and there’s a kitten, who becomes part of your home. (That’s how Aitza found her.) Or you’re with your wife watching Armageddon in the theater and the movie’s making her sick and that night she does a pregnancy test and finds out you’re going to be parents. (That was our first glimpse of Shade.) Or your child is born and you put him in your mother’s arms, and that keeps her alive for another nine years until the cancer finally takes her. (Shade gave her the drive to hold on.)

Life and death, they’re inextricably linked. Even the pain of losing someone to death is merely a reflection of the love you felt for that person (or kitten) in life. How sad for the person who has no one for which to mourn or to mourn them when they die. That’s a lot of loneliness.

Mayan and Mellow

Mayan and Mellow

We told the kids in the late afternoon when they got home. Mayan was shredded. Mellow was his cat more than any of ours. He had to retire to his room and cry it out. Conversely Shade said, “No more Mellow? That sucks.” Then he made a joke about Mellow being the color of asphalt. Like I said, death doesn’t get under his skin.

I had already dug a hole in the back yard, put Mellow in a cardboard box, and carved and painted a little marker. We walked out back and lowered kitty into the ground. Our other cat, Cheetah, came up to look. Cheetah hated Mellow. There’s a conspiracy floating around our family that she pushed Mellow into the road. She has been unusually friendly today, as if she’s trying to get on our good side and cover her tracks. The investigation is pending.

The ceremony was short and sweet. I threw a palette over the gravesite so raccoons don’t dig her up. (That would be double traumatic.) We’re inside right now, looking at pictures and videos of her. If you’re not a pet owner, that might sound silly. Just think of her as a little furry person who touched our lives. That’s all any of us can hope to do.

Finding Focus

The explosion that erupted in Shade’s skull over three years ago knocked out his focusing ability. Shade has the attention span of a pyromaniac in a candle shop. Ooh, all the pretty lights.

Though his intelligence centers were not damaged by his stroke, short-term memory and focus did not fare so well. The MRI looks like someone tap-danced in those areas with golf spikes.

Thus, Shade’s school work suffers. He lags in class because he’s incapable of trudging up Homework Mountain without a study Sherpa to carry him. For example, he’s way behind in American Government class. Getting him to read the Articles of Confederation is like getting a Chihuahua to, well, read the Articles of Confederation. They’re both preoccupied with yapping at cats. (Shade’s cat fetish has not waned.)

So for every single homework assignment, someone has to sit and read with him, and explain with him, and write a little. Then read again, and

Shade getting study help from big brother, Edwin, and little brother, Mayan.

Shade getting study help from big brother, Edwin, and little brother, Mayan.

explain with him again, and write a little. Often it’s Mami. Sometimes Dad. This week it was big sister, Arianny, who’s in town for a week. It’s exhausting for Shade and for the Study Sherpa. It takes ages.

Shade’s not dumb. He gets the ideas. But then forgets them. And then gets them again. And forgets them again. Partly because he suffers short-term memory loss. Partly because he can’t pay attention long enough to transfer info to his long-term memory.

School demands focus if he’s going to acquire enough knowledge to have a career. A career demands focus if he’s going to keep his job.

How is Shade going to perform brain surgery if he can’t focus on the brainy bits? That’s a career tragedy waiting to happen: “Now, we just need a micro-incision right here in the meninges and … Hey, look at that beepy machine over there. Oops.”

So we’re trying something new. Shade’s neurologist, Dr. Kojic, has prescribed him Vyvanse, a drug often used to treat ADHD. (Back in my day, they didn’t have ADHD. They just called it fidgeting.)

This is a new edition of Shade’s Progress. The Focused Shade edition. Tomorrow morning (Thursday, October 2), Shade will take his first Vyvanse and we’ll see if he can switch from Dog Chasing Squirrel mode to Laser Beam Focus mode. We invite you to join the journey.

Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde

Shade still walks the hormonal tightrope between little kid and mopey teen. I think Robert Louis Stevenson must have thought up his Jekyll and Hyde characters at the age of 12.

Last week, for example, I had just helped Shade into Aitza’s car so she could take him to school. I decided to hose off some built up dirt from the car (I had borrowed her car for camping) and as I slooshed the sides, some water leaked into Shade’s door. He was yelling at me through the window but I thought he was just pulling faces for fun. Little did I know, I had awoken the kraken. When I went in to kiss him goodbye, he pushed me away and yelled, “Get away from me!” I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know why he’d done that. I was very upset and stormed into the house. Aitza came out and explained to him that I didn’t know he was getting wet. I came back to the car and he let me kiss him goodbye, but he knew I was hurt from his rebuke. On the drive to school, he started crying. “I don’t know what’s happening to me,” he said to Aitza, who explained that not only was he trying to heal from a brain injury but he was simultaneously going through the biggest change of his life — puberty. There couldn’t be a worse period in a person’s life to try and heal from a hemorrhage in the skull box. Puberty is hell without any help from medical distress. It completely ruins the awesomeness that is being a kid. Plus, all that new unwanted hair! By the time they got to school, both of them were crying.

Switch to today. Shade has been obsessing about getting a Lego kit of a kitty cat. Note: There is no Lego kitty cat kit. But supermom Aitza did her due diligence and found some Lego nerd that built a yellow cat head/bird house. Shade nearly bounced out of his wheelchair when he saw it. He’s checked it out every day since Aitza showed him. So Aitza promised to take him to the Lego store at Downtown Disney and see if they could find the parts. When they got to the store, Aitza asked a Lego grunt behind the counter about building a cat head. “Um. Hold on,” she replied. “We’ll have to call a master builder.” She got on her Lego phone, gave the secret code phrase (F#@% Megabloks!) and a hidden Lego door opened in the wall. From the darkness, amidst billowing smoke and zipping laser lights, strode a master builder donning a red velvet cape and Lego centurion helmet. (I wasn’t there, so I’m filling in a few of the extra details as I imagined it happened. I’m sure I’m fairly accurate.) Anyway, the master builder took a look at Shade’s Lego desire, called some of the grunts to him, and began to order them. “I need twenty yellow number 3Fs, fourteen black 22Gs, eighteen white 47Bs, a eight Double Ds, assorted colors, and a Red Bull.” (The grunts were doing the leg-o work. Haaaaaaa, uh.) He started constructing the cat head for Shade before their eyes. According to Aitza, tourists actually crowded round to watch, including a large Brazilian tour group who were snapping pics throughout. When the blur of the master builder’s hands had subsided, Shade was handed a beautiful yellow kitty cat head. More pics were snapped. Now, normally when purchasing blocks, you fill a cup full of Legos and buy the cupful at a set price. This kitty cat project had multiple large cups involved, plus labor, but the master builder took it to the register and said in a deep commanding voice, “Just charge them for one large cup.” $15 was the total. The master builder then hopped on his Lego horse and galloped off toward Pleasure Island. Just before dipping over the horizon, he turned and waved. Aitza and Shade never did get his name.

So Shade is floating on a happy Lego cloud. Today he’s like a six-year old on Christmas day. Tomorrow he may be a surly almost-thirteen. At which point, I may suggest, “Lego store?’