Attending guest speaker event at the college.
Open to public.
Evening, already dark outside.
Semicircle lecture hall filled
With rosy undergrads,
Pensive graduate students,
Professors in tweed sports coats,
Smattering of retired professionals from town,
My chair squeaks softly.
Glance at an older student further down my row.
Knitted charcoal sweater, black skinny chinos, stark white Vans hightops.
Hair pale caramel, perfectly tousled.
Tapered sideburns point to smooth angular jaw.
Slate grey eyes meet mine.
Flicker of gentle smile.
I stare down at my worn Nikes.
Throw on heavy coat,
Flip up collar,
Stride into frigid night,
Our family cat Russell died this week. He was eighteen years old.
My brother and I adopted Rus from a city animal shelter in the aftermath of the May 3rd 1999 tornado in Oklahoma City. At the time, we were 9 and 12 years old, respectively. Russ was three weeks old. Over the ensuing two decades, we three boys grew up together.
When we adopted him, Rus weighed less than a pound and didn’t know how to drink water from a bowl. My brother and I took turns dipping our fingers in water and letting Rus lick the drops. For the remainder of his life, he “drank” by putting his paws in the water bowl and then licking them dry. We build giant Lego houses for him in our bedroom. We dressed him up as the Pope for one Halloween. He was the reliable constant during our turbulent adolescent years. He was fearless, intelligent, and fiercely loyal to his two boys. He once chased a neighborhood kid into a bathroom because the kid had pantomimed punching my brother. He slept in our beds at night, keeping some sort of internal schedule by which he rotated between my brother and me. His favorite toys were rabbit foot tchotchkes. We trained him to walk on a leash, and he loved going for long explorations outside. He was the third son of our family. We nicknamed him “Tubbs.”
By the time I was in medical school, Rus had developed diabetes. Because he was otherwise healthy, we chose to treat him with insulin, and he thrived for another four wonderful years. This week, the inexorable hand of age caught up with him, and he passed peacefully of kidney failure. He fell asleep for the last time on his favorite blanket: a red Christmas tree skirt with white fringe.
It is hard to believe that you’re not here anymore, Russell; you were a constant for so many years. I know you loved us as much as we loved you. Thank you for everything.
I’ll miss you, Tubbs.