Josh bought Axle from the 92nd Street Shelter when he lived in New York City. Axel was a grey and black tabby whose cage said, “Not good with children.” Josh brought him back to his tiny apartment in Hell’s Kitchen with the bathtub in the kitchen. Axle loved to play with Josh’s feet.
When Josh moved to Seattle, Axle moved into white mansion with Josh’s family. The other cats in the house were outdoor cats. Axle, being from New York City, was afraid to go outside. He slinked outside on his belly. My niece, Amanda, starting walking the poodle down the street and the cats would follow. That’s how Axle learned to take walks.
When Axle moved in to our first house, he was in heaven. He was the only cat in the house. He had fallen for me early on, and he developed a complicated routine to compliment mine. While I was taking a shower, he sat on the dresser. When I was finished, he lay on the bed, etc. He had different places to sit or lay for every move I made.
Axle became an outdoor cat, and even though we lived on a busy street, he was an expert at crossing it. He was an expert at fighting other cats. We found out later, that he went around eating other cat’s food that was left outside. He developed a stomach that hung down. I would follow him around, which he hated, and watched him “flemen.” When a cat flemens, they lift their lips over their front gums. They look odd. They are taking in information, like we read a newspaper. I did a solo show about Axle called “Puss Puss Piss Piss.” It was about how he became a successful artist and I was the scholar writing about him. The exhibit at the center of the show was his litter box, where I had made poo out of clay and surrounded it with rings in the sand, like in Japanese rock and sand gardens. It was a satire also of the controversy surrounding the NEA’s funding of the madonna made with pee. I had seen it in the Brooklyn Museum of Art and was struck by it’s beauty, which was never mentioned in the debates. Senator Jesse Helms was outspoken against the funding of the NEA and so his photo was included in the cat box, and Axel had peed on it. The show began with me announcing, “Many of you know me…in the Biblical sense.”
Axle stopped his routines when we bought Shenya. Shenya (short for “Shenanigans”) was the first wheaten terrier that Josh and I brought into our lives together. Shenya was an older, rescue dog, sold to us by her owner’s daughter. We later found out, by reading the wheaten digest list online, that Shenya’s owner had been prosecuted for abusing her horses and other animals. Once, this owner was walking down our main street, and Shenya jumped into my arms and starting shaking.
Shenya was ungroomed when we took her home, her coat long and shapeless. The first things she did was try to run away. On our first walk, she somehow got off her leash and ran down the middle of the street, but submitted to me as I hugged her. It didn’t take her long to love us. Especially since we fed her her favorite dish, spaghetti and meatballs with parmesean, from the table.
Whenever she got nervous, Shenya would jump into my arms, and I would hug her tightly. She often did this at the dog park, to everyone’s delight. I watched the film “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” and there was a wheaten terrier in it who did the exact same thing, so I figured it was in the bloodline.
I was in my thirties, striving for success in the theater world, performing in solo shows and having my play produced in Austin, Texas.
This was also the decade when I had horrible friends, perhaps because I was in the theater world. Also, over and over again, plans to produce my play elsewhere would be set up and shortly fall apart. And I was getting a lot of rejections, as all writers do. I didn’t really have the temperament for all of the rejection, so, between my career struggles and my bad friends, I became depressed.
Shenya would heal my depression. She took me out of myself, as I made her happiness my goal. I also took up gardening, planting lavatera, which made our garden look English, and quince and poppies and tulip, daffodil, and Iris bulbs ,periwinkle groundcover, butterfly bushes, scented Philadelphia bush, heuchera, hostas, and euphorbia, to name a few. I drove for miles to various dog parks all over the city (there were none in my neighborhood).
My friend Leslie was a successful theater director, who was promoted to artistic director of a local prestigious theater. She was an arrogant show-off and she would go on and on about the work of her other friend, ad nauseum, but never talked about my work, even though she directed it. Josh is a contractor, and she wanted to talk to him about doing work on her house. We went out to dinner with her husband, Ike, and they told us they had no money to pay Josh. We wanted her theatre to give my play a reading (just a reading!) so we miscontrued this as some sort of trade off. Ike was a jerk who, when we went out and offered to pay for drinks, ordered the most expensive drink in the restaurant (very high end), then had several. That is a good judge of character–beware of those who order expensive drinks on your tab. When Josh stupidly went to work for them for free, after a grueling day at his paid work, Ike offered no food, beverages, and refused to talk to Josh. When I heard this, I put a stop to the whole thing. I went out to lunch with Leslie and told her that I thought she was using us.
She never did give my play a reading.
I had another director friend who was constantly standing me up or arriving very late. I detest people who are late. I cannot relate to them, as I always make a point of arriving early, leaving half an hour before for every appointment within the city. The final straw came when she moved to Florida, and I planned on staying with her. A few days before I left, after I had already bought my plane ticket, she said she would be out of town and that her house was far from the beach and had no shower. Who would ever expect that? Josh and I went to Florida together for a vacation and stayed at a B&B. I broke off the friendship, and then our mutual friend broke off our friendship because she thought I was wrong and wrote me a nasty email, so I lost 2 friends.
There were other disappointing friends who once “forgot” to come over for our dinner party, and another time, when I invited all my friends together, did not speak or participate. They then said, “You need nicer friends.” They were right, but we needed nicer friends than them. At one of their dinner parties, their fellow academic colleague yelled at Josh when he suggested that bullets be registered with the police for gun control. So she was hardly one to give advice.
One friend, Lenore, who failed her playwriting class when trying to get an MFA in playwriting from the University, was completely crazy. She would repeat the bad gossip people said about me, telling me that people were saying “Who’s this?” and holding out their hands in a satirical manner, showing off their engagement ring. This is how my impending marriage was treated, as a joke. People who repeat bad gossip about you to your face are hurtful.
Lenore would go on and on about her friend X, about all she and X did together, ad nauseum. But when I took X’s playwriting class, X told me she did not associate with Lenore at all. “Our friendship is all in her head. She does not live in reality.” Lenore was on many boards and was the president of a playwriting association. When I asked X about this, she said, “No one else wants to do those jobs. Lenore is the only one who volunteers for them. Everyone else is busy writing.” Lenore was not writing plays. She was too busy being the town gossip.
Lenore had picked a fight with me the night before I was defending my dissertation. Then she called me over and over, and I wouldn’t answer. I broke up with her the next day. Her husband called and told me Lenore was jealous of me for getting a Ph.D., she had always wanted one for herself, and begged me to become friends with her again. But I had had enough.
That was all why I needed Shenya to heal me. People were trecherous and disappointing at the time, and Shenya was all love. Petting a dog lowers your blood pressure.
Axle followed Shenya and I on our walks. He crossed streets with us, being sure to look both ways. Shenya had a boyfriend, a brown lab named Duke, who tried to mount her all the time. Shenya was happy to flirt with him, and always had a spring in her step after encountering him. Duke hated cats. So when Axel came by, he charged him. Axle sprung up in the air on four feet and landed on Duke’s back, digging his claws in. After that, Duke left Axle alone. Axle would not be bullied.
One day Axle had large lumps the size of tennis balls coming out of his neck. We took him to the vet, knowing something was very wrong, and found out he had lymphoma. We gave him chemotherapy, which made him scream and howl. But then he got better. He was acting like a kitten, and he was so happy. We deluded ourselves into thinking he would be all right. Then the vet said, “He’s still going to die, you know.” We didn’t know that.
Axel started to have debilitating seizures. They would take up so much energy. After a seizure, I would wrap him in a towel and feed him salmon and cream. That would be his last meal. We decided he was in too much pain and we took him to the vet to be put down.
“We will give him 2 shots. The first one will relax him and the second one will stop his heart.”
I remember sitting in the living room, surrounded by boxes of Christmas decorations, unable to move. A friend came over. I was disheveled and crying. I couldn’t decorate the tree.
I wanted a new car for so long, and we got one soon after Axle died. The car no longer mattered to me, because Axle was dead.
Shenya got cancer, too. This time we took her to an animal acupuncturist. Shenya could not climb up the stairs one day, so I carried her. She was very heavy and it was difficult for me to climb the stairs. She died in my arms the next morning. She had not wanted to be a burden. I began to howl in grief. I could not stop howling. I was like the wife in Fanny and Alexander, who paced back and forth wailing when her husband died.
We attended a ceremony for people who had lost animals, and I gave a speech about Shenya. When I started to speak, a rooster crowed. I took it as a sign from Shenya. At the ceremony, we ordered a rock made with her picture and Beethoven’s words, “Immortal Beloved,” carved on it. The rock sits on our porch. Then we bought a burial plot and tombstone with Shenya’s photo on it at a pet cemetary. We planted tulips in front of the grave. The soil was rife with worms.