the second apartment i had in san francisco was on the corner of geary and polk, across the street from a drug rehab, a laundromat and a parking lot. my bedroom windows were also street level to the busiest trannie corner in san francsico, 24-7. a three year relationship had just ended and i was looking forward to a new phase in my life... and i was lonely. i think this was '97 or '98.
i thought i should get a cat and found myself wandering the rooms and cages and aisles at the sf spca.
there was a room that looked empty and before i opened the door, an spca employee mentioned in passing that he didn't think there were any animals in that room. but i went in anyway, i didn't mind checking. i walked around and got to the very last aisle, where i saw two fluffy paws stretching out of the very last cage. so, i walked all the way down and there she was. "reina" was her name. she was an adult cat and looked himalayan mixed with some main coon. she kept stretching her paws out to me through the cage and so i reached out to touch her and immediately wanted to rescue her and take her home.
i found another employee and she told me that this cat was popular that day, that a few people wanted to adopt her but that they couldn't get the cage open. she was waiting for a custodian or a locksmith to break the lock. she said she'd try to open the cage again, but not to get my hopes up. with her first attempt, the lock unlocked and the cage opened. the cat leaped into my arms and crawled around my neck and tried to sit on my head. papers were signed and i boarded a bus with a cardboard box full of fluffy catness.
on the way home, i saw an advertisement for yerba buena gardens and realized i didn't like the name "reina" all that much but "buena" was nice and sounded similar. so from then on, i called her "buena".
she was the most loving and most intuitive cat i've ever known. she was quiet and playful - a juicy, girlie, flirt with big, clear, blue eyes and brown stockings.
buena looked after me through many good days and bad nights, a handful of failed relationships, breakups, health scares, a tattoo, hangovers, fashion do's and don'ts, the laserdisc years, employment lay-offs, swing dancing, a burglary and finally dating and marriage to her arch rivals - the thin man and his young, uppity cat, bailey. she moved five more times with me. our last move together was here to chicago.
before we left the bay area, she was already sick. it turned out she was older than i or the sf spca had originally thought. the veterinarian who looked after her in san francisco was unsure of what was really ailing buena besides old age. her back legs were failing her and she was having trouble missing the litter box. it felt like buena was slowly and painfully breaking off pieces of my heart. everytime i thought, we'd have to bring her to the vet to put her down she'd make a miraculous recovery. her legs would regain their normal strength and her bathroom habits would improve. it was a similar recovery that encouraged me to move her to chicago with us. i took her on a plane with me just in case she couldn't handle the cross country truck trip that the thin man, his dad and bailey were embarking upon.
as soon as we landed, buena took a turn for the worse. i opened the door to our new apartment and tried to make the empty echoing place as comfortable for the two of us as possible. and after a sleepless vigil of two days and two nights, of dragging legs, full bowls of untouched cat food and fresh water, and pristine box of cat litter - i called my brother and asked for help. he picked us up and drove us to the local emergency vet.
we cried all the way there. we cried in the waiting room like all the other owners and their howling pets. everytime, i looked into her eyes, i expected to find fear or pain and found peace and quiet. she often tried to get up and failed. i knew she just wanted to be at home. i felt so conflicted. i wanted to leave. but, i wanted to make sure she wasn't in any pain. i wanted her to be free but i wasn't ready to let her go. finally, the vet leveled with us and assured us that it was better for her to be put down. i hugged her and nodded to the vet. he left and returned and explained the procedure. i held her close and whispered into her ear, "thank you for taking care of me so well and for so long. i'm going to be okay now. you can go. i love you and i'll never never forget you." i looked into her eyes, the vet continued, her pupils got bigger and as the vet listened for her heartbeat he quietly told me that she was gone.
my brother and the vet and the technician left us alone for a little while and i laid her body down on the metal examining bed, my shaky hand stroking her small head, trying to gently shut her eyes. then the technician came back and explained all of our options for burial. shamefully, i asked them to dispose of her remains because we just couldn't afford anything else. but i asked if i could cut some of her hair. she brought back a pair of office scissors and an empty pill vial. i cut a bit from the tips of her ears, and some from her belly and some from her tail. i still have the vial tucked away in my sock drawer.
while my brother drove me back to the new empty apartment, he turned on the radio to break the silence. i rolled the pill vial back and forth in my hands remembering that first day, seeing her paws stretching out of her cage... and this song came on the radio and it reminds me of the night she died every time i hear it:
after looking thru a photo album this afternoon, i realized that that was six years ago tonight.
buena, i miss you terribly. but don't worry about me because i really am doing ok. i really wish you could've met the paloma, the porkchop and the newish cat, stella (she drives bailey CRAY-ZEE!) and i really hope that wherever it is i end up, you'll be there waiting for me.