Sunday, September 8, 2013

Love is Forever: Popper, 2007-2013

Christmas 2007
In the summer of 2007, an unexpected miracle came into my life that would change it forever.  Here's how it all began: On June 1, 2000 my mom's gorgeous cat had kittens & I decided it was time to welcome some furry little creatures into my life.  I adopted George, an incredibly active, strong & smart grey & white striped little guy & his sister, Popeye, sweet & adorable & born blind in her left eye.  In the middle of the night in spring of 2006, I found Popeye struggling to breathe on my kitchen floor.  She had been to her vet Dr. Zalis the previous day but was given the ok to go home.  My heart was beating out of my chest as I sat in the cab telling the driver to drive faster to the emergency center, my poor little girl gasping for breath.  I was terrified & alone.  She died very quickly in the morning of heart failure & I couldn't get back to her in time.  My mom drove to the emergency center to pick us up & we buried her in our family pet cemetery in my mom's backyard in the Hudson Valley.  It all happened so quickly.  I wasn't prepared to lose her so soon & I spent some much needed time healing my broken heart.  Now it was me & George & we were slowly adjusting to life without Popeye.  People asked if I would adopt another cat but I wasn't ready & trusted that I would know if & when the time was right.

Flash forward to the summer of 2007.  It was a beautiful, sunny day in Hoboken, NJ, where I was living at the time, & I was dog sitting my friend's miniature dachshund, Oscar. I decided to take him for a nice long walk & somehow we wound up walking past the vet's uptown, a decent walk from where I lived & I never really ventured up that far unless I had a vet appointment.  Now, some girls love babies, some love shoes, but put a kitten in front of me & my heart melts.  I looked in the window of the vet's & there were adorable kittens playing in a big cage.  Like a moth to the flame I was in the door in a second flat.  I was instantly attracted to a tiny black kitten, blind in his left eye & I thought, Oh just like Popeye!  I nearly jumped out of my skin when I read his tag on the cage "Hi, my name is Popeye"  WHAT??!!  How is it possible that he's blind in his left eye & has the same name as my Popeye?  I was in shock (& in love) & I told the ladies at the desk that I wanted to adopt him but just wanted to come in later in the week to spend a little time playing with him first.  They said of course & how fortuitous it was because they don't usually put the kittens in the window, they usually keep them in the basement, but for some reason they decided to bring them up that day. 

I called early in the week to arrange a day to visit with him & the woman on the phone said, "Oh I think he's been adopted."  My heart completely sunk... "No, there must be a mistake, you're holding him for me."  "Ok, wait a second & let me check."  I was nervous as all hell, he was meant for me.  She came back on.  "Sorry, yes, you're right.  Also I wanted to tell you that Dr. Zalis named him after your little Popeye."  I couldn't believe how sweet that was & I was so excited to visit him.  The day came & I had visions of us looking at each other all starry-eyed, bonding & falling in love...well, it didn't exactly go down like that.  He ate his food the whole time I was there (butt facing me) & didn't even so much as look in my direction, even when I called his name (later I would learn he's hard of hearing but I don't think that even mattered).  But I didn't care, I was going to be the best mom he could ever have & he was coming home with me.  I decided that he deserved his own name & renamed him Popper, a combination of Popeye, Pop, my paternal grandfather that passed away earlier that year, & Pepper, my beloved black childhood dog.  I decided on Chowhound for his middle name due to his overwhelming preoccupation with food.  I loved having a new little life running around my apartment.  George on the other hand wasn't terribly happy....

George & Popper - August 2007

Now George is a big, strong & entitled cat & he liked to beat up his sister Popeye.  I was a little nervous about bringing a kitten home, asking the vet if George would attack him & the vet assured me that everything would be fine.  Well....before I knew it my 3 month-old tiny one-eyed kitten was attacking George!  Popper would play "fight" with him & actually hang from his neck while George walked trying to shoe him off.  It was the funniest sight & that's what I loved about Popper.  Despite his size & being blind in one eye he thought he could do (& did!) anything.  He was scrappy, full of life, sweet, & let me cuddle him (which George rarely did).  Alicia Keys' (an all around fabulous woman I might add) song "No One" was popular in the fall of 2007 & yes, I will admit this, I used to pick Popper up & dance/rock him in my arms to our song.  We both loved cuddling & swaying to the music.

Very sadly, Popper became terribly sick a few weeks ago.  His jaw was paralyzed, he couldn't eat & his lungs were in bad shape.  I brought him to a specialist center in Yonkers & he stayed there for three days.  They were a godsend & gave him the utmost care but had reached a point where they had done all they could & it was time for him to come home & hopefully heal.  And frankly if he wasn't going to make it I wanted him to die at home with me, where he was most comfortable, not in a cage with strangers, albeit extremely kind & compassionate ones.  Our drive home was unbelievably peaceful- I turned on the classical station, Popper was sleeping softly in his carrier next to me & the setting sun was lighting up the sky with shades of pink, orange & blue.  I was scared of what the future might hold but in that moment everything was peaceful, sublime & beautiful & I wanted to remember our time together that way forever.

I put a mattress on my office floor & stayed with him, feeding and/or medicating him through his feeding tube every two hours.  My life shut down.  I could barely sleep, eat & shower between his feedings & medications but I was going to do everything in my power to shower him with love & nurse him back to health.  If anyone was a fighter it was him & I was there with him every step of the way.  It was gut wrenching to see him so sick & I was afraid of him dying & also afraid of him living...I was emotionally & physically exhausted & I literally couldn't do much of anything while caring for him around the clock.  My dad sent me an email saying that he was praying to God for the highest & best outcome for both Popper & I, whatever that may be.  That, along with a miraculous recovery, became my prayer.  On my second day with him, after only being able to walk a few feet the day before, he amazingly walked out of my office, into the litter box in the bathroom, jumped in the bathtub & then tried to go into my bedroom!  He was walking wobbly & had to lay down in the hall exhausted afterward but I couldn't believe it.  He wasn't supposed to be walking around so I shut my office door to prevent another escape.  Even in his sickness he was trying to have some fun, that was my Popper!

Though I was praying for a miracle I had a terrible feeling about Popper, he had had some minor illnesses over the years but he was always so playful & full of life, I had never seen him that sick & weak.  I wished I had had more time with Popeye before she died & I was not going to let that happen again.  I spent all my time & energy on him...feeding & medicating him, petting & kissing him & telling him how much I loved him, telling him that if it was his time & he wanted to go he could, I would be with him every step of the transition & I would always be his mommy forever.  Our hearts were fused together & I would see him again one day.  I asked him to promise he would visit me in my dreams or even when I was awake, I didn't care, I just wanted to see him again.  I played soft classical music for him (thanks WQXR), had a candle burning 24/7 next to my St. Francis statue (patron saint of the animals :) & rosary, both from my Grandma that passed away late last year.

After two days at home, just after midnight on August 31, 2013 & in his favorite spot in my office, Popper took his last breath, returning to that magical place full of utter peace, light & love that we all came from & will all return to one day.  I was with him until the end, petting him, kissing him & telling him how much I loved him & that everything was going to be ok.  I was unbelievably grateful to have had time with him before he left this earth.  We both fought as hard as we could & in the end there was enormous sadness but also peace & happiness.  God's will was done & I would have gone through the end 100 times just for the six years we had together.  As one of my best friends said to me, "He is part of you."  My young niece & nephews adored Popper & we had a funeral & buried him the next day in my mom's pet cemetery.  Afterward & all weekend there were huge thunderstorms.  My seven year old nephew Jake said, "I know why it's raining, God & Popper are crying."  Talk about your heart just melting.

Popper 2013
I'm a bit lost right now.  Popper was such a big part of my life & there's a palpable void.  I keep expecting to see him in his favorite spots & now he's not...the tears flow.  He was always at my feet as I worked at my desk, fast asleep in a little ball.  It was so comforting to look down & see his beautiful little body there.  We always just wanted to be (& usually were) next to each other.  When he wasn't sleeping on the bed with me he would sleep on a big wing chair in my office at night.  He was a heavy sleeper & I'd come into my office in the morning & watch him sleep.  After a little while he would wake up, surprised to see me & with wide open eyes let out a big "MEOW!"  It was the funniest & cutest thing, it made me laugh every time & I loved starting my day that way.  After I'd take a shower I'd come back into my office & he'd be sleeping on the floor, the morning sunlight streaming in on him.  Watching him sleep in the sunlight brought moments of utter peace & joy to my life.  Time just stopped & nothing else mattered, I was completely in the moment & my heart was numb with love.  I literally couldn't move & would just stare at him, both of us in bliss.  Who would have thought that a little one-eyed stray kitten found in an elderly woman's basement in Hoboken would turn out to be one of the greatest gifts of my life?  Miracles do happen in the most unlikely (& unglamorous) of places.  He was not just a cat but a heavenly little creature that opened my heart to inner peace & unconditional love.  I am so incredibly grateful that he was born & that we found our way to each other.  We were meant to be together & had six love-filled years that I treasure in my heart.  I know when it's my time to return home he's going to be there to greet me with a big "MEOW!"

I'm in the process of creating my dream bedroom- an old rustic beam on the ceiling with a crystal chandelier hanging from it, a fireplace flanked with built-in bookshelves & on the walls grey-blue floral wallpaper with meandering branches & butterflies.  I had visions of reading in bed in front of the fireplace, my two kitties sleeping peacefully at the foot of the bed.  Over the weekend I was painting the bookshelves, feeling sad that Popper wasn't going to be part of the new bedroom I was creating for my little family- me, Popper & George.  As I was painting away, to my delight & surprise Alicia Keys' "No One" came on the radio.  Popper knew I was missing him & I knew it was a sign from my little guy.  I smiled as Alicia sang, "When the rain is falling down & my heart is hurting, you will always be around, this I know for certain.  You & me together, through the days & nights, I don't worry 'cause everything's gonna be alright..." 

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