Monday, December 20, 2010


Just a brief note: a lunar eclipse on the Winter Solstice is occuring tonight (or, rather, early tomorrow morning for those in EST). The partial eclipse, as though a bite has been taken out of the moon, should be visible at 1:33am EST with the total eclipse beginning at 2:41am EST and lasting 72 minutes, according to NASA.

What can I say? You already know how I feel about stargazing. It's what inspired the commencement of this very blog! So you can just imagine how I feel about moongazing.

Tonight I am missing the pitch-black of the backyard of my previous homestead. But I will stand at the bottom of my driveway or on my back deck and try to peer through the city's light pollution to catch a glimpse of anything I can despite the current cloud cover above.
The last time there was a lunar eclipse on the Winter Solstice was on December 21, 1638. That's right. Three hundred and seventy-two years ago. The next time it will happen, most of us won't be alive. It will be December 21, 2094. So. I'm thinking you really shouldn't miss out on this event tonight if you can witness it.

Normally, the Winter Solstice is also called The Darkest Night of the Year. Only this year, it will just so happen to be that bit darker with the moon turning an amber colour behind the shadows tonight.

My son and I wish you all a beautiful Birth of the Sun tomorrow as the earth tilts towards the Summer Solstice and the days begin to stretch and grow brighter. And we hope that all your days grow brighter in 2011!

Music: Bonnie Tyler, A Total Eclipse of the Heart

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Ninth Life

My cat died tonight. He was 17. He had been mine for 16 1/2 years.

The way it happened was all of a sudden. He'd always been in good health. I guess that's usually the best way to go, they say.

I was playing with my son this evening in our front room and I heard my cat fall. I called out to him even though I know he has been deaf the last couple of years. At first I thought he was upstairs but when I discovered him, he was lying at the bottom of the stairs having what looked like an epileptic fit. All four limbs were flailing in different directions and his head was spasming like he was being electrocuted by some invisible cable. My first instinct, of course, was to pick him up and that's just what I did. He continued to flail and make biting movements with his mouth, jerk and spasm in my arms. I wrapped him in a blanket and held him until his body started to slow its movements. His head finally calmed, he started frothing at the mouth a bit and his tongue stuck out involuntarily. But the staccato of spasms gradually ceased until he lay still in my arms, something he has rarely voluntarily done in all the years I've had him.

I called the local animal hospital which, ironically (or not), was the same place I held my golden retriever when he died 16 years ago now. In fact, I ended up tonight in the same room with my cat when he was given his final injection. I felt as though my old dog was waiting there on the other side, my claddagh ring in his mouth, ready to guide this cat to my other kitty who passed away three years ago in June of 2007. They were both very close. Only about a year apart in age.

Life is so strange. We recently moved back to this area and ended up mere blocks away from where I first found this little abandoned, feral kitten. Actually, my twin sister found him. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, sis!) She had been visiting the duplex where I lived and we were painting my bedroom when she spied him outside the second story window. I called the Humane Society to see if anyone had reported missing a tabby kitten. I already had one cat and hadn't planned to have another, but they got along like a house on fire so I kept him.

My head is so full tonight of all the memories I have of him. My heart is full of them. Even in his dotage, he was so patient that I introduced a baby (of all things!) into the last year or so of his life. He was never declawed and had plenty of opportunity (and reason, likely) to protect himself from tail being pulled or ears being tweaked. But he would just strut patiently away from my son as though nothing had happened.

What comes to mind the most are the nights I would talk to him those months following the end of my marriage in January of 2007, especially once my first cat died the following May. He was my sole companion out there in our remote, rural farmhouse. I felt so thankful for his company and his love and affection. It was a lonesome time and a pretty damn emotional year or two that followed.

I think people who've never had a pet sometimes can't fully comprehend how much they become members of your family. How they are sometimes like your "children" (especially when you don't have any children). And my two cats and my dog were very much that for me for many years when I needed little ones to mother and love in that way.

I realized tonight, in conversation with my brother-in-law, that my cat who died today was only born a couple of blocks from here. Maybe he'd sensed that he had come full circle. That he was "home" again. Maybe he felt it was time.

I am very glad I was home when it happened. That I could hold him during the scariest moment of his life. He didn't know he was having a stroke. He didn't know what was happening. The vet explained that one pupil was dilated and the other wasn't. That he had lost function on one side of his body. She said we could wait a day to see how he does, but that he might have other seizures and, having witnessed him go through one today, there was no way in hell I wanted to risk him suffering that again. They left me alone with him for a few minutes and then returned and I held him while they gave him the shot to put him to sleep. They warned me if there is a struggle, as often happens, they would stop the injection and perhaps try another spot. I nodded. They asked me to hold onto the top of his body. I held him very gently. His little paws were crossed over my fingers and I cradled his tiny head in my right hand. He didn't move a muscle while they injected him and they both gasped quietly and said, "Wow, he is so sweet." Even in death, he was a gentleman. So patient and calm. That's how I knew he was telling me it was the right decision. He was ready to go.

Still, it rips your heart open. This is it for me. I know down the road I plan to get a puppy for my son, a companion of his own. Maybe when he's around 7 or 8 years old. But this guy is the last cat I will ever have. The two cats I had, I just can't imagine finding two better than them. I've always been a dog person and I guess I got lucky twice. My luck just isn't always THAT good. Murphy's Law tends to rule the day.

But I have to tell you. This morning. Uncanny. He must have known this would be his last day. When I came downstairs he was lying on the ottoman and turned to look at me. And he looked so beautiful curled up there, I grabbed my camera and took some shots of him.

Now, anyone who's ever photographed animals will tell you it's almost impossible to get a clear, focused shot. They turn their head in one or their tail twitches in another or they start to jump off the couch. They usually end up a complete blur. But he just sat there and let me take some lovely shots of him and then he looked me right in the eye, straight into the lens. Like he knew. Maybe he was saying goodbye and wanted me to have some proper keepsakes of him.

I didn't know they would be the last shots I would take of him. I want to share them with you. Here he is: Setanta.

For weeks now I've been complaining to anyone within earshot that there has not been enough snow to my liking and finally today the skies opened up and the white stuff came down. For good this time. To stay. On the drive home from the vet clinic they were falling as big and heavily as my tears. It's as if he made sure this would happen today. A goodbye gift to comfort me. A balm to my grief. To be blanketed in this way. Pristine, white snow covering everything. A clean slate. A new beginning. A final, perfect farewell.

Goodbye, my furry little guy. Thank you for being such a great cat! Thanks for being so g-d chatty. I loved that you were so talkative, especially when I was otherwise surrounded by silence a good part of the time (even during my marriage). I cherish the years we had on our very own out there on the farm. Just you and me. Thanks for making the good times over the years greater and the hard times easier.

And thanks for being so lovely and patient with my wee Sonshine. I know you were happy for me that I finally had a human baby to mother.

I know Brandy and Zosia are with you now and you're playing and all four limbs are working okay where you are and you can see good as new and you can hear just perfectly, again.

I hope, wherever you are now, you hear this:
I love you and I will miss you. Lots.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Stronger Sex

Tonight the streets are nearly empty as I stroll him through the shortcut behind the nearby funeral home. We just miss the green light because my feet refuse to do more than shuffle today. This is the time of month I feel so damned sorry for myself, moreso for the little man who wonders why his mama is just not up to par for a few days each month. My cycle began on Friday, the 12th anniversary of the due date of my first pregnancy. I try to imagine having a 12 year old running around me right now. Wow. That would be kinda neato.

The thought inspires a brief smile and peek far above to glimpse twinkling stars and think on my lost babies. Not really lost to me since I hold them close within my heart still. He kicks his legs along with the rhythm of the wheels as they hit the sidewalk cracks. We're on our way to return a late film rental. I was not sure I'd venture out tonight. It's minus 6 celcius and we are completely bundled though Mama cannot walk at her usual fast pace tonight. A pause as I bite my lip against the searing pain of the cramp and accompanying clot which nearly cripple me and we resume the stroll again. Today proved vastly difficult to get out of bed. I think back to before I had him when I would down some tylenol 3s with a glass of water and lie supine in bed with hot water bottle pressed against my insides on these days. Just knock myself out entirely against the pain of it.

No longer can I afford such luxury when it hits. And because I am nursing, no meds either. The entire weekend I move as though under water and he looks at me curiously. What's wrong, Mama? Why aren't you laughing, tickling and giving me spacerocket rides on your feet to swing me above your tummy? Not today, angel. In a few days...

We get home and I bathe him to warm his toes and fingers. He smiles up at me while I read him bedtime stories and cuddle him for his bottlefeed. He does not fight sleep tonight. Perhaps he can sense that I need the break and for this, I am thankful.

Downstairs I begin to tidy. From above my desk, my great-grandmother eyes me, a baby in her lap. She was a teacher who eventually went blind. She had birthed 10 or 11 children, the last 3 during her blindness. My own grandmother, the aforementioned baby, raised a large brood of her own children in Depression-era Ireland. The sink fills as I glance over at the photo of my mother at 17. I consider my own life and how easy I have it. So this line is the core from which I gather my own strength to get through the sorry-ass "hardship" I endure once a month? On the other side of the world, women do almost all the labour while the men sit under trees, drink beer and watch them haul water on their heads, firewood on their backs, children at their hips.

A calendar hangs near the sink and I realize tomorrow is December 6th. Twenty-one years have passed since the massacre at École Polytechnique in Montreal, where a gunman separated the men from the women in an engineering class and shot only the women. Only the women. Because he had applied to the programme himself and was turned down. Because he wondered why women should be allowed to enter a predominantly male programme and he could not? The men in the classroom were asked to leave and they all left. They were young and this man had a gun. A rifle. They had to have heard the shots from outside the classroom, down the hallway as they exited. I wonder how they feel about what happened. I wonder what it is they suffer at having survived the ordeal. Do they suffer? Knowing it was their gender that saved them? I wonder more about the women who were lost. The disbelief, the realization as the first woman is shot that this is it. Their whole lives ahead of them and this bastard is gunning them down.

Tears hit the dishwater and I ask myself just what the fuck do I have to complain about? Cramps? I am alive. I breathe. I have lived through my 30s, am experiencing my 40s. I have known the Joy of loving one Great Love in my life. I have had the pleasure of much laughter and other loves and lovers since. The incomparable ecstasy of carrying a child in my womb. Of giving birth. I have been blessed with motherhood. I work a job I enjoy with good pay and great benefits. I own a beautiful home in which to raise my son. These women had yet to live such wondrous moments in their lives.

I will never forget the day they were killed. That I was the same age as some of them at the time. I recall trying to imagine back then, at 22, having my own life end in such a tragic and hateful way. But I couldn't imagine it. I still cannot at 43.

This guy may have murdered these women, but he was so wrong. We are not the weaker sex. Not only can we do the same work as men do, but no one can destroy our ability to do so even by paying us less, never mind killing us. We can do anything. We are women. We will still defeat any sexist agenda. We will outlive it, even if we are dead. Our names will be read aloud and people will remember us. Young women capable of anything. We are women.

We will not take a rifle and execute others. Such acts are of pure cowardice. We are stronger than that. We can survive even the death rained upon us. We are women.

We can knit and we can do engineering. We can bake pies and calculate Pi algorithms. We can change diapers and policies. We can run classrooms and countries. We can give birth and we can choose not to. We are women. We have the right and the smarts.

I drain the sink. Inside my lower back, two imaginary clenched fists twist its muscles along with my ovaries. But I clean these rooms before I hit the hay. I whisper a small prayer of thanks for having that privilege. For being born a girl. For being the woman I am in the country to which I was born. I am lucky. I am strong. I am woman. Hear me roar, even as I yawn and climb the stairs slowly.

And before I ascend to bath and bed myself, I sit here at this computer and write. And I speak aloud the names of the 14 women whose lives were taken that day in 1989. I light a candle and gather strength from their wisdom, their smiles and all they accomplished in their young lives before they were taken so untimely and tragically from their families, their loves. From us all.

Anne-Marie Edward, 21
Anne-Marie Lemay, 27
Annie St-Arneault, 23
Annie Turcotte, 21
Barbara Daigneault, 22
Barbara Maria Klueznick, 31
Geneviève Bergeron, 21
Hélène Colgan, 23
Maud Haviernick, 29
Maryse Laganière, 25
Maryse Leclair, 23
Nathalie Croteau, 23
Sonia Pelletier, 28
Michele Richard, 21

Apparently the link I'd included with some bio information is not working properly so I am copying and pasting the bios I found here:

Who They Were

Anne-Marie Edward, 21, was a first year student in chemical engineering. She loved outdoor sports like skiing, diving and riding and was always surrounded with friends.

Anne-Marie Lemay, 27, was a fourth year student in mechanical engineering.

Annie St-Arneault, 23, was a mechanical engineering student from La Tuque, Que., a Laurentian pulp and paper town in the upper St-Maurice river valley. She lived in a small apartment in Montreal. Her friends considered her a fine student. She was killed as she sat listening to a presentation in her last class before graduation. She had a job interview with Alcan Aluminium scheduled for the following day. She had talked about eventually getting married to the man who had been her boyfriend since she was a teenager.

Annie Turcotte, 21, was in her first year student in engineering materials. She lived with her brother in a small apartment near the university. She was described as gentle and athletic - she was a diver and a swimmer. She went into engineering so she could one day help improve the environment.

Barbara Daigneault, 22, was to graduate at the end of the year. She was a teaching assistant for her father Pierre Daigneault, a mechanical engineering professor with the city's other French-language engineering school at the University of Quebec at Montreal.

Barbara Maria Klueznick, 31, was a first-year nursing student. She arrived in Montreal from Poland with her husband in 1987.

Geneviève Bergeron, 21, was a second year scholarship student in civil engineering who could easily have become a musician instead of an engineer. Her friends and family described her as a happy person. On the last day of her life, Genevieve had gone to the school to work on a project with her friends. She played the clarinet and sang in a professional choir. In her spare time she played basketball and swam.

Hélène Colgan, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to take her Master’s degree. She had three job offers and was leaning towards accepting one from a company based near Toronto.

Maud Haviernick, 29, was a second year student in engineering materials, a branch of metallurgy, and a graduate in environmental design from the University of Quebec at Montreal.

Maryse Laganière, 25, was the only non-student killed. She worked in the budget department of the Ecole Polytechnique. She had recently married.

Maryse Leclair, 23, in fourth-year metallurgy, had a year to go before graduation and was one of the top students in the school. She acted in plays in junior college. She was the first victim whose name was known and she was found by her father, Montreal police Lieut. Pierre Leclair.

Nathalie Croteau, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to take a two-week vacation in Cancun, Mexico, with Hélène Colgan at the end of the month.

Sonia Pelletier, 28, was the head of her class and the pride of St-Ulric, Que., her remote birthplace in the Gaspe peninsula. She had five sisters and two brothers. She was to graduate the next day in mechanical engineering and had a job interview lined up for the following week. She was awarded a degree posthumously.

Michele Richard, 21, of Montreal, was in second-year engineering materials. She was presenting a paper with Haviernick when she was killed.

Music: Annie Lennox, Sisters are Doin' It for Themselves