Molly Fisk: Nine Short Lives

One of my cats just jumped to the floor from the bathroom sink, where he’d been sipping drops of leftover water, and made a very loud thump. I looked up to see if he was alright. He walked, dignified but slow, through the door and sat in a patch of sun to wash his left elbow. It was quite a thorough left elbow bath, and then, disregarding all other body parts, he stretched out on the rug and fell asleep.

You know by now that I love cats. I may not have mentioned, however, that I tend to adopt families rather than individuals. This one sleeping here and his sister came to me after an earthquake in Paso Robles 17 years ago. They’d been found in a barn, but the earthquake overwhelmed local shelters with lost pets, so no one could take in feral kittens. Instead, my friend with the barn drove them six hours to my house. I’d volunteered to find homes for them, but in the end I couldn’t let them go. Unusually for rural cats, Sid and Gracie have survived into old age, which is what that thump was about. They’re landing harder these days, and sometimes don’t complete the upward jumps and end up dangling from the sink’s rim by one paw, looking horrified.

Cats are so famously self-sufficient, it’s disorienting when they begin to need help. Sid has always been the alpha male, but now Black Jack, only seven, steals his dinner unless I’m around to prevent this. Gracie is constantly cold and even after I’ve said “no” 46 times and moved her off my lap, I’ll look up from a paragraph and find her half on my knee and half on the keyboard.

These events tear at my heartstrings. They’re hard to watch in themselves, since I don’t want to lose my companions and I get reminded every day that death is coming. None of a cat’s nine lives goes much past 20. And they also point to the larger picture of all the aging humans around me. I won’t have to build a platform between sink and floor for my cousin Miranda, but at some point she may need my arm when we walk from the car to the movie theater. What’s worse is I may need hers.

I’ve been getting older since mid-July of 1955, but for some reason this year it feels much more noticeable. All my familiars are getting a little grayer or moving slower, forgetting words at a great rate, sometimes neglecting to wash their right elbows. I still feel about 32, only happier and wiser, but don’t ask me to race you across the street. I’m not sure my knees or boobs can take it.

Maybe there’s a symbiotic reason we fall so hard for animals. Maybe it helps to rehearse a few entire life cycles before we’re faced with the end of our own. I don’t know. Today, I just want everything to stay the same forever, and all of it to be kind, and sweet, and easy.

As younger people like to say: “Yeah, good luck with that.”



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  • Leslie in Oregon July 3, 2017 at 3:31 am

    I feel the same way (…and hope that Sid and Gracie defy the expected cat lifespan by many years).

  • Karen Donaldson July 1, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Thank you, Molly.
    I, too, have been aging steadily since 1954 and feel I should still be in my 30s. How did this happen? Also, have shared my life with numerous adored cats and dogs who lived long lives and yet left well before I was ready. I am starting to face the reality of the advancing years on many levels and find it rather sobering. Carpe diem!

  • Molly Fisk July 1, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks, Sally and Susanna — and I am in your orbit! Look at us, both here on WVFC. <3

  • Susanna Gaertner July 1, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    I love it as well: elegiac yet home-spun, a Greek frieze within a Norman Rockwell painting, this is simply the best. (Until your next masterpiece….)
    Thank you, dear Molly, wish I had you in my orbit.

  • drew39 July 1, 2017 at 10:42 am

    This particularly touched my heart today. I have lost several very loved pets and now my latest rescue pooch gives me pause to consider our getting older. One of my dearest friends has just been moved from ICU to what is called “Comfort Care.” We are simply waiting for her death to release her from her ordeal. I am seventy-seven and this last year has been the first time I have felt very old. I already lost one dear friend in March and now another is in the process of dying. These are friends without exaggeration of fifty plus years. It is a wrenching 2017 for me.

  • Sally Bahner July 1, 2017 at 10:32 am

    So true in so many ways. I love this piece.