Thursday, September 05, 2013
ON THE AVENUES: Nero's story.
ON THE AVENUES: Nero's story.
A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.
The following unretouched essay was written on February 15, 2011. At the time, I told the missus that it would not be published until I could re-read my words without crying, such was my attachment to its subject. So much for resolve. However, owing to a chance conversation last week, it's now time. It isn't necessary to reveal all the details why, or to know my ultimate purpose apart from the simple observation that I seldom hold a grudge for long. Times and people change.
Sigmund’s arrest for assault meant not only that he’d be taken into custody, but also evicted from the tiny apartment where he had lived for almost twelve years. His earthly possessions were few, but one of them was an elderly, heavyweight cat named Kitty, his fur greasy and matted, who subsisted on two daily cans of Friskies Beef ‘n’ Gravy and the voluminous atmospheric residue of Sigmund's prolific marijuana habit.
The case manager assigned to Sigmund's case let it be known that under the circumstances, his path of least resistance was to have Kitty summarily euthanized. Overhearing this admission of abject laziness, a cat-loving co-worker went ballistic, forcibly intervening in the situation and rescuing Kitty from certain death borne of capricious ineptitude. The fact that Sigmund's case manager was a rabid University of Kentucky fan should forever and absolutely be held against him.
So it was that the 17-year-old Kitty, soon to be redubbed Nero in honor of the expansive fictional detective Nero Wolfe, came to reside in the Baylor household. The year was 2006, and as you’ve surely guessed, the co-worker was my wife. I was bicycling in the Czech Republic, and heard about our new arrival over the phone. If only I could have guessed how my life was about to change!
Like so many human beings facing enforced residency in New Albany, Nero immediately began experiencing violent withdrawal symptoms. Expertly, and with amazingly agile right-left-right clawed jabs, he carved to shreds an animal shelter worker and veterinarian tending to him. The ensuing professional opinion was damning: It probably would be impossible to re-house such an elderly cat.
But to know my bride is to know that she seldom takes “no” for an answer, and we’ll leave it at that. Nero arrived at his new home, our three other cats registered their resoundingly negative viewpoints, and he took residence underneath the bed in the spare room upstairs, in the attic. He spent most of the following six months there. As his detoxification progressed, he began venturing into other areas of the house, descending floors until he came to be most comfortable at ground level.
So it was that the months passed, and gradually a semblance of normalcy prevailed. Once acclimated to the new surroundings, Nero finally began permitting us to glimpse his distinctive personality. His beautifully marked orange coat had long since faded into varied shades of brown and gray, giving him the occasional appearance of a leopard. His bearing was dignified and regal, with a lean economy of motion. An alpha male from top to bottom, there was separation from the other cats, who maintained a respectful distance most of the time.
Returned in due course to Ridgeview Animal Clinic for a checkup, the veterinarian there expressed amazement, because apart from periodic difficulties with blood sugar – treatable with diet food and human insulin, hence a treasured Walgreens prescription card in the name of Nero Baylor – he was declared to be in perfect health. We could only conclude that the stress-reducing properties of cannabis helped preserve Nero during his years with Sebastian, from youth until his retirement years with us.
The years went by, and life went on. At first, we were wary about becoming too attached to such an ancient cat, but it became increasingly evident that Nero had discovered a feline fountain of youth, and he became a household fixture. He gradually slimmed down, and his coat became luxurious again. I worked from the house most mornings, and grew accustomed to Nero’s presence as he waited for me to finish breakfast and share the crumbs. He dispensed and accepted love when it suited him, and at some point, I realized that I’d fallen for him.
Nero listened patiently when I would read my columns and other writings aloud prior to submission. He was rewarded with cat treats. They may not have been good for him, but who can resist venerable wisdom?
Not until his 21st year did an obvious slowing begin. Throughout 2010, Nero spent more and more time sleeping atop his favorite chair by the fireplace, formerly his owner’s chosen seat, now gladly turned over to the comfort of this proud creature in winter. He needed the insulin again, and assisted periodically by friends when we were out of town, Mrs. Baylor became chief caregiver. At Christmas, Nero noticeably weakened, and we feared the inevitable, but he reached down deep and rallied in January. The clarity and the strut returned, and in retrospect, it was a final display of vim and vigor.
I think we both understood the end was near, even if our fears weren’t spoken aloud.
It came on February 2. We got home after dinner at La Rosita and found Nero unconscious on the floor in the bathroom, where he’d always enjoyed drinking his water neat, from the toilet. Evidently he’d had a seizure, perhaps a stroke, and although he was as yet barely alive, and that gallant heart still kept time to the very end, his eyes were shut, and his breathing erratic. The vet kindly came to the clinic, and we said goodbye to this wonderful presence in our lives.
Nero was a month shy of 22 years old, having been born mere weeks after Ronald Reagan left office in 1989. I cried many times, perhaps hardest when it came time to discard Nero’s litter box, a spacious one meant to be used by a large dog, and the object of nonchalant and perpetual befouling that constantly tried my patience (and sense of smell) when cleaning it for four years.
Like I said, Nero was an alpha male, first to last.
We will miss him, now and always. Goodbye, friend.