Wednesday, July 31, 2013

RIP, Cricket . . .

When you have a pet for many years, he is no longer "just an animal."  We had Cricket, our black cat, for nine years.  He remained indoors from the time he was twelve-weeks-old.

Originally, I named him Salem after the cat on the television show, "Sabrina--the Teenage Witch," but that name didn't stick for long.  One morning when I was getting him a can of cat food, he became so excited that he made a chirping sound exactly like a cricket.  It caught me by surprise.  I had never heard a cat do that.

"You're no Salem," I told him.  "Your name is Cricket."

Every morning when it was time to be fed, his chirping started again.  And in a few days, he knew his name.  When you called him by name, his ears perked and he came running.

Once he was old enough, we had him declawed since we were keeping him indoors, which has always been something I regretted.  Not that it hurt him, but the other two cats we took in never clawed the furniture.  And Cricket always looked sad when he couldn't actually snag a toy and grasp it like the other two cats.  He'd walk away and sulk.

In 2007, my wife and I had to move to Kentucky because our jobs were outsourced to Honduras due to CAFTA.  As part of the TAA, we were given paid two-year training or two more years in college.  Both my wife and I already had B.S. in biology.  She wanted to get her training as a lab technician, and I was going to complete a second bachelor's in business marketing since my first novel had been released.

In mid-June we made the trip to Shawnee State University to meet Brian Saul and discuss our college goals.  In that meeting Brian told my wife that they had just started a Masters Program in Occupational Therapy and asked if she'd be interested.  But, being accepted into the program meant that she had to start immediately.  The first week of classes had already started.  They gave her a couple hours to contemplate, and after much thought, she accepted and enrolled into the program.

Since her classes started on the following Monday, we made the trip to our house in Alabama and packed the van with as much of our belongings as possible and stored them at my in-laws until we could find a house to rent.  They wouldn't allow an indoor cat in their house, and since he had been declawed, we couldn't set him outside.  So we bought large cat food and water dispensers for Cricket and filled them up. We gave a key to my sister to check on Cricket during the week.

Each week we drove home, loaded our van with boxes, and while there, we spoiled Cricket with attention while packing.  Sadly, the little cat spent his lonely time eating and eating, packing on a couple pounds.  After several more weekly moving trips, we found a house to rent, rented a Ryder truck, and moved Cricket and our belongings to Kentucky.  Cricket rode in a cat carrier in the front seat of the Ryder with me. I'd rub his forehead with my finger from time to time, and he was happy to have the attention.

At the house in Kentucky, Cricket took to home quite well.  But, an empty food bowl stressed him because he was used to it being full all the time. He'd beg and beg until someone fed him, even though he wasn't hungry.  We got another kitten to keep him company and hoped that would prevent him from obsessing about food.  It didn't.  He'd still beg.

In October 2007, I became ill and nearly died.  I had pneumonia and didn't know that I had it.  The first symptom was a severe, sharp pain in my lower back.  Since I work out in the gym a lot, I assumed I had strained my lower back and thought nothing more of it.  A couple days later, my stomach swelled so hard and large, I didn't know what was wrong. After going to the doctor and then to the hospital for a cat scan, they told me that I had pneumonia.

My chest hurt so badly that I couldn't lie down on the bed.  I had to sleep in the recliner in the living room.  When I awakened during the night, Cricket was tucked up under my elbow and sleeping right beside me.  He never left me while I slept or when I was trying to sleep.  He wanted to be near me.

Any time the front door was open, Cricket wanted to lay in front of the glass door and look outside.  Occasionally, he'd make a mad dash outside when someone opened the door.  He tried to hide in the bushes, but we couldn't let him stay outside without claws.

Cricket was stubborn from time to time.  On days we had to leave to go to work, and he wanted to sit and look outside, he'd get mad if we had to move him to shut the door.  He'd stamp his feet and waddle his fifteen pound body across the floor.  It was one of the funniest things one could watch.

Fast forward six years:

For the past month or so, Cricket had acted differently.  Every chance he had, he'd sit at our feet and nuzzle us so we'd pet him.  He wanted attention all the time, and we gave it to him.  Since our son was home from college, Cricket sat on the couch and slept near him.

Twice during the last week, he made a strange squalling noise.  Something he had never done before.  He'd scamper through the house and paw at things like he was mad.  Then, he'd settle down and act normally.  Night before last, at 2 a.m., Cricket made the strangest cries I've ever heard.  I got up immediately.  He sounded distressed and like he was crying for me to check on him.

Cricket was lying in the bathroom floor.  When he noticed me, he stopped crying.  I petted his head to comfort him, and then I picked him up and carried him into the living room.  After I put him down, I sat beside him and rubbed his head and back.  Our other two cats came and sat on both sides of me, watching.  He looked at me while I petted him, and after a few minutes, his eyes became distant.  I knew he was dying and that he was scared and didn't want to be alone.  He had wanted me near him at the end.  I was glad that I was there to offer comfort as he passed away, but I miss him.  The house doesn't seem the same.  The two cats and dog still look for him. I keep looking for him.

RIP, my furry friend.  We miss you.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What is Triumph?

When our favorite sports team wins the championship, we rejoice and sometimes celebrate their triumph.  And although we are enthralled to say that is our favorite team and they’re the champs, we really didn’t do anything that helped them achieve their success.

In reality, personal triumphs are much greater when we succeed in reaching a set goal.

I reached one of those goals.


While at Berea College in 1992, I met Brad Lewis at the local gym.  We became workout partners and good friends.  Our workouts at the gym were hardcore and leg day became his living nightmare.  Since my legs have always been the weakest place for me to gain size, I developed a regiment to put size on my legs as quickly as possible.  We worked legs Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  He cursed me every day.

After the second week of this, he came into the gym on Friday and was ready to work legs hard.  He said, “I was looking in the mirror as I was dressing, and I couldn’t believe it!  My legs have never had such cuts and size before.”

I kept a workout notebook and our goal was to eventually hit squats at 295 lbs.  I know, this isn’t much compared to the heavy power-lifters out there, but for us this would be a set goal we planned to reach.

Each of us had personal things going on that stopped us short of that goal.  His marriage.  My ex-wife, daughter, and college sidetracked us.  Soon after I met the woman that would become my life partner, and I moved back to Alabama.

But that goal haunted me.  I came across that old workout journal and saw the goal scribbled at the top of the leg regiment workout sheet.  Damn.  That was nearly twenty years ago.

Today in the gym, I looked in the mirror positioned behind the squat rack.  I did my warm up set of twenty reps at 135 lbs.  I felt good.  I slapped two more 45 lb. plates on the bar and did the next set.  Adding 50 more lbs., the goal suddenly came to mind as I finished the set and placed the bar on the rack.  Today’s the day, I thought.  I’m not getting younger, and tomorrow has been put off for way too long.

Adding twenty more pounds, I did three reps.  After placing the bar on the rack, I added twenty more.  I did three more reps and realized that I probably could have done that a long time ago.  Why had I resisted?  Perhaps it was the fear of hitting the goal and shooting beyond that?  I don’t know.  But I hit the goal and even went beyond that.

Were there people cheering me on?  No.  Just two other guys in the gym doing their workouts and not paying attention, which was okay with me.  I succeeded.  I surpassed the goal and was satisfied with my triumph.

What’s next?

Washboard abs sounds good.  We’ll see.